Inactivity is a bigger challenge than obesity

By on 04/08/2014 in News

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Birmingham's new physical activity champion, Dr Ewan Hamnett has labelled inactivity an even bigger challenge to the city than obesity.

Dr Hamnett, who recently retired from General Practice, has been appointed by the Health and Wellbeing Board to be Birmingham's new Champion for Tackling Physical Inactivity.

The voluntary role will see him providing leadership for a strategic approach to physical activity, acting as liaison between Birmingham City Council, health organisations and communities across the city.

And he is relishing the challenge.

He said: “I believe that activity is where it's at. Everybody gets very hung-up on fat people but actually the evidence for activity is much stronger. You're better to be a bit overweight and active than thin and inactive, in terms of lots of health statistics.

“So, as I see it, the purpose of my role is to cut down the barriers to everybody in Birmingham being able to be active, because activity will not only solve a lot of health problems but it will also solve a lot of social problems. It will make people happier.”

Alongside obesity, inactivity has been identified as one of Birmingham's biggest public health challenges.

Only 31.7 per cent of Brummies participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, compared to the national average of 34.7 per cent.

Initiatives like the award-winning Be Active free gym and swim scheme and the new ParkLives activities in parks throughout the city are starting to tackle the crisis and Dr Hamnett aims to build on that success.

He added: “This will build on initiatives that already exist in Birmingham. But it's not all about Be Active gyms and Active Parks. That's just part of it.

“We've got to remember that people make choices. You can't tell anybody to be active, you just have to make the environment conducive to activity.We also have to accept that for a minority activity will not be easy .The other part of my role focuses on wellbeing. We need to improve access to art,music ,dance and creativity generally. In essence making people feel better about themselves

“We're not suddenly going to have a city where everybody is exercising madly, it's going to happen over time. What we're looking to do with things like biking is to get a critical mass up. Once you've got a critical mass and people stop thinking it's weird seeing a cyclist on the road amongst all those cars, once it's weird to see a car on the road in amongst all those bikes, then we've achieved something.

“Cycling's not where it's going to be for many people. We're talking walking, other activities and my role is about connecting all these strands.

“I've been a full-time GP for 26 years in Birmingham and I calculate that I've had about 190,000 consultations - so that's 190,000 conversations with people. Something like 78 per cent of the population will see a GP once a year, so we've got a massive footfall and we know what the problems are. The situation is crying out for removing the barriers of time, cost and access.

“If we can break those down then all GPs can genuinely have a conversation with people saying: Why don't you go down to your local Be Active gym? Or Why don't you run that 5k route from the council gym? It just needs to be easier.

“I think we have to trust ourselves that if we make activity easier, the people will just do it. If this works, we will see Birmingham becoming a more vibrant city.”

Birmingham Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, said: “There's clear evidence that if we make families active, their children will also become active.

“There's also strong evidence around older people remaining independent through physical activity. Activity plays a really important role in falls prevention and can also reduce dependence in dementia.”

Dr Gavin Ralston, Chair of Birmingham CrossCity CCG, said: “If anybody can get Birmingham more active, that person is Ewan. He has such great enthusiasm for this particular subject.”

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