Belfast Telegraph

A healthy lifestyle will take weight off your feet

There is no simple solution to Northern Ireland's obesity epidemic but a new Executive strategy is a welcome start, says Eddie Rooney

The launch earlier this month of A Fitter Future For All - the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety's framework for addressing overweight and obesity in Northern Ireland over the next decade - brings into sharp focus the need for a multi-faceted, targeted approach to the issue.

In Northern Ireland, more adults are overweight or obese than are in the healthy weight range. This can cause significant health problems and can also cut life-expectancy by up to nine years.

Tackling this issue demands all of our efforts and requires a co-ordinated approach across society - including government departments and agencies, food companies, councils, the community and voluntary sectors, as well as individuals themselves.

By working together, the actions set out in the framework document will inspire and enable people to make positive health choices.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is committed to playing a leading role in tackling this major health issue and is already involved in a wide range of activities which contribute to preventing obesity.

The PHA works with partners to promote breast-feeding - a really important start to life and an important preventative factor for obesity.

It also supports local programmes to increase awareness of good nutrition and develop cooking skills, as well as promoting more active lifestyles.

It develops community allotment schemes and programmes for primary schoolchildren, sport and other recreation for young people.

This month a groundbreaking programme is taking place in the southern trust area, offering the public free classes in activities such as zumba and spinning, advice on how to cook good food for less and how to grow your own vegetables.

The Give It A Go! initiative is an excellent example of partnership working, which involves the four local councils in the area, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and the Southern Group Environmental Health Committee working closely in partnership with the PHA in order to offer people the opportunity to try out new things and encourage positive change in habits.

The PHA is also developing a series of public information campaigns as part of this co-ordinated approach, which aims to raise awareness of this important health issue and, at the same time, provide practical advice and support for those who want lifestyle changes.

Eating good food and maintaining a healthy diet is important at all stages of life. The PHA recognises this can be demanding for individuals, with pressures such as budget, lack of time and cooking skills.

However, positive changes - no matter how small they may be - can help people lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and bring big benefits to their general health.

That is why it is so important that people are given the tools, advice and support they need.

Information on losing weight through healthier eating and being more active can be found on the PHA websites - www.enjoyhealthyeating.info and www.getalifegetactive.com.

These websites provide help and advice for anyone who wants to improve their eating habits and fitness levels, by making small, sustainable, healthy changes to their lifestyle.

There is no simple solution to this issue. It requires the concerted effort of Government, public bodies as well as individual lifestyle changes.

While A Fitter Future For All takes a long-term view, this 10-year framework document sets out clear steps that everyone can take today towards a healthier future.

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