When a potato chip is part of ‘5 a day’

Mike Hedges reports on practical schemes in Swansea to promote healthy lifestyles.

It is well known that those who are least well off are more likely to suffer debilitating illnesses and to die young. We know that in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board area there are considerable and increasing gaps between the most and least deprived areas, despite improving life expectancy.

In a report produced last year, it was identified that levels of deprivation varied considerably across the region, with pockets of high deprivation concentrated in the urban centres and the upper Valleys. The report said: “The association between deprivation and ill health is complex, but we know that lifestyle and environmental factors play a major part in the poorer health outcomes experiences by those most deprived”.

Another problem that the region is struggling with is obesity in children aged four to five which is higher in the region than Wales as a whole and much higher than England. Unless corrected early, this will lead to obese children growing into obese adults with an increasing chance of diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

To address these problems, Swansea was given Healthy City Status by the World Health Organisation two years ago.

Improving health is one of the three key objectives of the new Communities First clusters. We know that stopping smoking, improving diet, increasing exercise and reducing obesity are four of the most important ways of reducing ill health. Improving the health of a community will not only reduce health service costs but will also improve the life chances of those who face a life of continual ill health and early death.

I always recall the heavy smoker and drinker who was massively overweight, lived on a diet where the only fruit or vegetable eaten was a chip, and then described himself as unlucky with his health and ignored those who said that his health problems were due to lifestyle choices.

What is Communities First doing in Swansea East to improve the health of the communities it serves? The North West Cluster (Penlan, Blaenymaes, Portmead, Penplas, Ravenhill and Gendros) has run a number of initiatives during the last year under the Healthier Communities Outcome:

Healthy Balance helps local residents gradually adopt a healthy lifestyle. Each week it runs a series of nutritional and physical activities for people to try out run in both the Penlan and Blaenymaes communities, giving local people the opportunity to improve diet and increase exercise.

The Cluster team have also placed an emphasis on physical activities and have co-ordinated diverse activities at a community level, (including Tai Chi, Swimming and increasing local Gym/Leisure Centre usage). The team have also supported local growing initiatives and have put together and run some environmental skills sessions in partnership with the Communities and Nature team in the City and County of Swansea.

Work has also taken place to raise awareness around the risks of smoking and to spread other key public health messages.  In particular the Cluster team worked with the City and County of Swansea Sports Development Section, the Positive Steps programme and Local Health Board to promote and engage local people in the Expert Patients Programme, which was delivered to local people, with life limiting conditions. It really helped those people manage their conditions, and the team hope to carry out similar work in the future.

Within the East cluster (St Thomas, Port Tennant, Bonymaen, Trallwn and Birchgrove) a number of health initiatives are underway. The successful slim to save, which previously only ran in Port Tennant, that provides dietary, fitness and lifestyle advice alongside practical cooking sessions, has been expanded throughout the communities first area.

A growing project has started in partnership with a local chapel and local residents have been encouraged to grow food in their own gardens. A sample growing garden is planned showing how fruit and vegetables can be grown in a number of different containers. Cookery classes and demonstrations are also planned as part of the healthy eating project with courses on nutrition also available.

Family lunch sessions are run weekly during term times to encourage families to both enjoy a healthy home cooked meal on a budget and to give advice on diet and exercise, recipe cards are also provided.

The North East cluster (Clase, Caemawr, Lower Morriston, Cwmrhydyceirw and Graigfelen) has two major health projects underway. The eat well project is aimed at promoting a healthier lifestyle through eating healthier, developing cooking skills and food growing skills. The healthier lifestyle project gives a free health check, free nutritional advice, free fitness sessions and free weight management in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere

The South cluster (Hafod, Landore and Plasmarl) has been teaching people how to cook healthy and nutritious meals on a budget. A number of physical activity course such as Tai Chi and Zumba have been provided. Health awareness, smoking cessation, blood pressure checks and screening services have been provided. The aim is now to establish walking groups to improve physical fitness.

What Communities First across Swansea East has been good at is working on improving diet, and increasing exercise. But a lot more needs to be done on reducing smoking and extending the slim to save project throughout the Swansea area in order to promote weight loss.

Stopping smoking is probably the most important action that can be carried out to improve health and needs to be a priority in future years. Overall a good job has been done so far, especially on diet and exercise, but with a lot left to be done especially on reducing smoking and reducing obesity.

Mike Hedges is Labour AM for Swansea East.

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