A COUNCIL leader insists tackling the obesity problem in Hartlepool is a “key public health priority”.
Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher is chairman of both the council’s finance and policy committee and the Hartlepool Health and Wellbeing Board.
Coun Akers-Belcher told the Mail: “Tackling the problems of people being overweight and obese in Hartlepool is one of our key public health priorities, particularly as being an unhealthy weight increases the risk of other long-term chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes and certain cancers.
“Rates are still rising nationally and this is also reflected in our local figures.
“The council has developed a Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy which aims to bring together all key partners who can have an impact on improving obesity rates in the town.
“There is a fantastic amount of work going on in Hartlepool at all levels to address this rising trend.
“Hartlepool has a wide range of sport and physical activity facilities as well as an exercise-on-referral service through the Hartlepool Exercise for Life Programme (HELP).
“Use of outdoor space for exercise/health reasons is also the highest in the region at 21.1 per cent and above the national average of 15.3 per cent.
“We also have the NHS Health Trainer Service to support adult weight management, the Families in it Together (FiiT Hart) programme for families and children’s weight management, and specific condition management and prevention programmes for diabetes and those at greater risk of the disease.
“There is still a huge amount of work to be done around this issue - to first halt then begin to reverse this rising trend.
“The council is committed to using the resources available in the best way possible to provide and commission quality services which meet the needs of the Hartlepool community.
“Elected members have now given the go-ahead to secure a new healthy weight service for the town, which will be a fantastic opportunity to further shape and develop the most suitable and effective weight management service for Hartlepool residents.”
HEALTH chiefs say the service they currently offer is all about making “long-term changes” to eating and exercise patterns which are sustainable.
The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has been running the health trainer service since 2007, as part of a Government initiative aimed at cracking down on excess body weight.
The service covers everything from understanding food labels, changing lifestyle patterns and helping people become more active.
It has worked with hundreds of people over the past seven years and health chiefs say they often find the whole family can also benefit from the advice individuals are given.
Sharon Bartram, health trainer manager at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The health trainer service was set up as part of a government initiative in 2007 to help people tackle excess body weight.
“Our service is all about making long-term changes to eating and exercise patterns which are successful and sustainable.
“We cover things like helping people to understand food labelling so they can spot the often hidden salt, sugar and fat in foods, enabling them to make healthier choices.
“The most important thing about our service is that we treat everyone as an individual.
“Tackling long term eating patterns can be very difficult for many people so we help each person to work out their own solutions to their weight.
“We never use the word diet, as what we promote is about simple healthy eating that anyone can benefit from.
“We also work with people to find ways of becoming more active which are realistic and achievable.
“This might be as simple as using what they have at home, like making a point of climbing the stairs more often, walking to the shops or using things like food tins as hand weights.
“We have worked with hundreds of people and tailored the service around their needs.
“Many clients really benefit from this approach as its the first time they really start to understand how to change their eating patterns for life.
“We often find the whole family benefits from the work we do with one individual.
“People can refer themselves to the service or they can be referred by their GP or other health professional.”