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Blitz on North's health timebomb.

Byline: By Alison Dargie And Amanda Crook

A pounds 750,000 fitness blitz to defuse the North-East's health timebomb is being launched.

The plans aim to radically improve the region's appalling record on heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension and mental health - which is the worst in the country.

The health scheme will be piloted in the North-East before going nation-wide.

People in the North-East are 20pc more likely to die early than those in the South due to the decline in traditional heavy industry and the subsequent rise in unemployment combined with problems accessing services in rural areas.

Later this month Sport England will unveil plans for a massive advertising campaign about the benefits of exercise.

They plan to get employers backing work-related fitness programmes and introduce gym sessions into local doctors surgeries.

Shocking research shows that only 28pc of people in the region do enough physical activity.

The region falls well below the national average of 32pc and makes the Government's target of 70pc by 2020 a difficult challenge.

Pam Vareh, Sport England's senior development manager, who will lead the campaign in the North-East, said: "We need to radically change people's outlook on exercise - its the key to tackling so many of the region's serious health problems.

"We're starting this programme in the place where it is needed most so we face a major challenge to get the majority of people in this region fit and we will have to make a significant investment to do it. We want to get

everybody thinking of prevention rather than cure - in the end it will save the economy money."

Regional director at Sport England, Judith Rasmussen, underlined the scale of the challenge: "We have the worst health record of all the English regions. We need to bring about a major culture change in people's attitude to exercise and show people that by making small changes to their lives they can become fit for work and fit for life."

Currently the Government spends about pounds 750 per person on healthcare and only pounds 23 per person investing in exercise facilities - a statistic which the campaign aims to reverse.

Steven Singleton, medical director for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority, firmly believes that exercise is a powerful weapon in the fight against the North-East's main health problems of heart disease and obesity.

He said: "We need to work towards a whole change in attitude towards diet and exercise and we need to start those changes now.

"The devastating effects on health caused by obesity are at least as large if not larger than smoking and poverty."

On Tyneside alone, 100,000 people are classed as obese and across the North-East and Cumbria, experts say the figure is likely to be more than one million.

Almost a third of youngsters aged from two to 15 in the UK are classed as overweight, an increase of 50pc compared with the mid-90s.

As part of the new programme Mrs Vareh and her colleagues will be talking to industry leaders, council, education and health bosses. They hope to encourage businesses to invest in workplace health promotions which will result in a healthier workforce.

They also want to see community projects such as gym equipment in doctors' surgeries. Schools will also have a role in encouraging children to take part in physical activity.

A spokeswoman for North Tyneside PCT said: "Any investment to create more facilities or opportunities for people to improve their health and fitness is good news."

The campaign will focus on showing easy ways of incorporating exercise into day to day life - for instance by climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift or walking instead of driving for short journeys.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2004
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