Obesity remains a concern for health bosses – and could prove to be a major financial drain on the NHS. A new organisation is trying to make sure that children in the future are less obese than current youngsters, as Priya Mistry reports
It’s said children pick up habits and traits from their parents and family. And it is no different when it comes to eating and exercising.
The examples we get as children stay with us for a long time and usually pave the way for our lifestyle as we get older.
And that’s why Portsmouth Food Partnership (FP) wants to work with both children and adults to ensure obesity levels are tackled early on.
It comes as 21 per cent of children leaving primary schools in Portsmouth are classed as obese, and 15 per cent in Hampshire.
The FP is an initiative to look at how we travel, where we get food from and whether we use green space, so improvements can be made to our lifestyles.
Megan Saunders from Highbury College is food project co-ordinator for the FP and has been looking at the Square Meal report – a call by 10 organisations including the RSPB, the National Trust, the Food Ethics Council and the Wildlife Trusts that challenges government to fix the food system and look at farming, food and public health together.
She says: ‘Figures from the Square Meal report say ill health caused by poor diets is a public health problem on par with smoking – it costs the NHS more than £6bn a year.
‘The chief medical officer for England said obesity has been normalised to the extent that in one study, 77 per cent of parents of overweight children did not recognise that their child was overweight.
‘Childhood obesity is one of the most worrying health issues caused by poor diet. It signals big problems, now and even more in the future.
‘As those overweight and obese children grow up into overweight and obese adults, they bring with them a range of costly health problems.
‘The NHS is bursting at the seams with unmanageable numbers of patient referrals and long waiting lists, and combined with budget cuts, the projection into the future paints a bleak picture.
‘It is simply not sustainable – if obesity rates in children, and adults, continue to rise the NHS will buckle under the strain.’
But the FP wants to reverse this trend in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas and has got a cross-section of authorities and companies on board.
She says: ‘This doesn’t have to be our future, and the beginnings of the Portsmouth Food Partnership, a collaborative project between public, private and third sector organisations, is working to ensure that this projection doesn’t become our reality.
‘The partnership will work to put good food higher up the agenda for all planning and policy in Portsmouth, linking to everything from travel, to waste to planning.
‘The worsening of the national diet is due to a combination of a change in lifestyle, partly as a result of “fast food” culture and the vanishing involvement with the production and preparation of our own food.
‘Encouraging people to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle is not simply a case of making each person suddenly cutting out the takeaways and “junk” food.
‘This is where the importance of a whole-city joined-up approach to healthy living is important. We cannot do it alone. We are all much more likely to succeed with the support of as many others as possible.
‘Healthy living must cover every aspect of the way we live; from food, to social activities, to employment and education, to the environment in which we live.’
It’s a scheme that is backed by Dr Janet Maxwell, the director of public health for Portsmouth.
She says: ‘As obesity levels in Portsmouth continue to rise, the Portsmouth Food Partnership offers the city an opportunity to review the food we eat, where it comes from, how it is transported to us and the skills we have to cook it. Developing a food system where we strengthen our links with local food growers not only helps us to eat more fresh, healthy and locally-grown food, but helps us consider more sustainable and resilient ways of bringing food into the city, reducing food miles, packaging and waste.
‘It also helps support local growers, producers and jobs to support our local economy.’
Green and open space
One of the best things about living on the south coast is the seafronts and leafy countryside.
But according to the Food Partnership, today’s young people have less contact with nature than ever before, with less than 10 per cent of children now playing outside.
Green space reduces depression and improves mental health. It has been proven that children with lots of contact with nature are less stressed and recover from stressful events better.
Simply being in it boosts our mood, and space can be used for many different activities; from a summer picnic, to brisk winter strolls or a space for team sports.
Parks and gardens also offer a great habitat for a variety of flora and fauna important to keep Britain buzzing. Without these pollinators there wouldn’t be a variety of fruit and vegetables our UK farmers grow.
You don’t need a lot of space to green a city: green roofs, green walls, roof gardens and adding pots to balconies all benefit us and the environment.
And Portsmouth has the added benefit of Southsea Common, the seafront and branching out into Hampshire’s countryside.
According to the Food Partnership, food prices have risen by almost 12 per cent in the past six years.
With prices set to rise above inflation for some time yet, more people could be at risk of being in food poverty.
The number of people using food banks has tripled in the past year alone, and the Food Partnership is encouraging people to shop locally.
By shopping at farmers’ markets, independent retail stores, using a box scheme to get vegetables, fruit and even meat, can reject the irresponsible behaviour of food businesses and also support local small businesses keeping jobs and communities alive.
People can also grow their own food so they can trace food journeys from plant to plate.
Allotments are also a great place to meet new people, learn how to grow food and get some exercise at the same time.
You don’t need a big space to have a go at getting green-fingered – a few pots on a balcony is all you need to start with.
And as we live in a coastal area, the tradition of fishing is kept alive by a small number of dedicated fishermen, and so you can buy fresh fish.
As Portsmouth is largely flat, cycling is a great way for people to get from A to B, dodging queues and getting in some exercise.
The Food Partnership says that by combining exercise into your daily journey is a great way to save money, get fit, beat the jams and lack of car parking spaces dilemma.
By choosing to walk, bike, roller blade or scoot your way around town you can kill two birds with one stone – you still get from A to B, and get a workout too.
Putting exercise into your daily routine is a good way to increase physical activity without even noticing.
You don’t need to make extra time in the day to hit the gym because you’re exercising while going about your daily routine.
Portsmouth has few hills making cycling easier, and there is a network of cycle paths around the city with lots of places to park your bike.
Free bike checks are carried out in Hampshire, so there’s no excuse.
To find out more about cycle routes, go to myjourneyportsmouth.com.
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