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Measures to put local authorities at the centre of fighting obesity are unveiled in a New Local Government Network report. The report calls for all councils to adopt an obesity strategy as part of their Local Area Agreements and that they should be rewarded by being allowed to retain a sum equivalent to 50% of the NHS savings on treating future obesity averted as a result of early interventions.
The report, Weighing up the Advantages: A new role for councils in tackling obesity, also argues that all authorities should have an obesity strategy in place that is directly linked to their LAAs and also improve access to local leisure facilities, for example by providing free transport to and from local leisure centres.
Citing research that access to sports facilities increases fitness activity by up to 50%, the report also argues that allowing local people access to sports facilities in independent schools that receive charitable status would help to tackle obesity, particularly in children. By 2020 the British Medical Association predicts that 20% of boys and 33% of girls will be obese.
NLGN also calls for radical changes to the planning system to promote healthy living, including ensuring every new building development must include sports and fitness facilities, such as space for a small gym. Supermarkets should also be made to ensure good public transport links to their out of town stores to ensure that poorer households have access to their goods.
The report looked at a sample of six UK local authorities to assess how well they were tackling obesity at a local level and found an “extreme variation” in the amount of work undertaken. The report however praises the work of Westminster Council in tackling obesity, including policies such as improving access to healthy food in poorer areas and improving access to physical activity opportunities for adults.
Author Michelle Redmond argues:
“Clearly obesity is a major public health issue, demonstrated by rapidly accelerating levels which show no sign of slowing down. Government at the local level is the key to halting and reducing the obesity trend. Local councils have the ability to reach large numbers of the community through well designed LAAs with specific targets aimed at reducing obesity levels”.