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Suffolk health chiefs aim to tackle problem areas of smoking, diet and lack of exercise

Health chiefs in Suffolk are planning a "radical change" in the approach to public health problems like smoking and obesity - with economic and social situations set to be taken into account more.

Suffolk's Health and Wellbeing Board gathering of council and health service representatives agreed for work to begin on a new public health strategy around problem areas like smoking, obesity, diet and lack of exercise.

A report prepared for the board said: "Although there has been some change over the last five years, for issues such as obesity, inactivity and over consumption of alcohol little is improving and smoking in some parts of the county is remaining stubbornly high."

Drinkers in a bar (49466004)
Drinkers in a bar (49466004)

It added: "There is also evidence that the current pandemic is having a negative impact upon many health behaviours such that in April this year death rates for alcohol were reported as being the highest for 20 years."

Data presented to the board indicated that just 37% of adults were of a healthy weight, and 25% of the adult population did not maintain safe limits of alcohol.

The new strategy is set to consider the background to how people live their lives to tackle the root causes of smoking take-up, alcohol use or poor diet, and means issues such as deprivation and income could be studied.

A smoker enjoys a cigarette (49466006)
A smoker enjoys a cigarette (49466006)

It also proposes to work closer with communities.

The board has agreed to form a reference group from across the health and care system and voluntary organisations to work on future delivery plans, resources and principles, with work on a new plan to start this autumn.

Any new contracts for services will be planned to begin from October 2023.

Lynda Bradford, head of health improvement at Public Health Suffolk, said: "We know that the majority of people display at least one healthy behaviour, but there are significant number of people who are unable to display healthy behaviours.

"For instance, 30% of adults are not active at all, and that is quite problematic for them and their families."

"What I am proposing is we take a system approach to healthy behaviours going forward, using the evidence to inform what we think is the starting point, but working right from the beginning with individuals with lived experience and key communities which have the worst quality of life."

Public Health Suffolk director Stuart Keeble added: "We are not going into this with any preconceived ideas of what we are going to commission or what we are going to do.

"It's making sure that we consider it in the round by having a conversation with our residents about what is important to them, but also about what enables those behaviours and to get that balance right."

The new plan will effectively take over from the Time is Now prevention strategy which began in 2016 and focused on early detection of conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, and improving support for those who wished to change their health behaviours and lifestyle.

Public Health Suffolk commissions or funds a number of services in these areas, such as OneLife Suffolk and NHS Health Checks, and the new strategy will review contracts as part of its work.

Lynda Bradford, head of health improvement from Public Health Suffolk, said that "by October '23 we will be commissioning some element or investing the money we spend at the moment - which is about £4million a year- in different ways, and we would like others to come on a journey with us to do that".

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