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‘Change4Life is one thing, but society must change if we are to tackle obesity’

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Health promotion and the war on obesity just became cooler than liquid nitrogen. Substitute the word ‘for’ with a number, and you have the new movement known as Change4Life.

The idea is very clever and inspirational. It will be targeted at children from birth to 11 years. Change4Life will be sponsored by the Department of Health to the tune of £75m over three years, while the costs to society of overweight and obesity run into billions. The message is ‘eat well, move more, live longer’. With apologies to Star Trek, ‘it’s gym life, but not as we know it’.

No single organisation can succeed in tackling the rise in obesity in young people. A society-wide movement, employing social marketing strategies, is the only way forward. Change4Life will build on what is already being achieved. Its social marketing aims to increase links between health, education, the media, food manufacturers, supermarkets and the voluntary sector.

Anyone who feels this is a waste of money need only sit in with practice nurses during their diabetic, hypertension or heart disease clinics. The misery of many individuals whose health problems have been brought on or exacerbated by obesity can be truly dispiriting. Their quality of life can be abysmal.

I’m against a nanny state – I’d rather quit nursing than join the health police – but perhaps ‘top down’ initiatives have a place.

It is a tragedy that many parents cannot or will not consider the effects of overweight, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle on children, potentially condemning them to a shorter life and long-term disability. If Change4Life is to be effective, we should offer families less criticism and much more understanding.

If Change4Life is serious, there are questions that need addressing before all the advertising begins at the start of 2009.
The following are simply a few that have crossed my mind, and there will be many others. Will thousands of children still start their day without a decent breakfast? Will shops sell sugar-laden drinks and crisps to children? Will children be able to walk to and from school? Will working parents have time to cook, sit and eat with their children? Will trans fats, high levels of salt and sugars in processed foods be banned? Unless some practices can be stopped, perhaps Change4Life will have arrived 2Late.

Jane Warner is a practice nurse in Devon

Want to read more of Jane Warner’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page

Click here to read Health Promotion: Changing Health Behaviour

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