Following Chief Minister Allan Bell’s comments that allowing children to become fat could be tantamount to abuse, the island’s sport development manager is hoping for continued investment in physical activity schemes.
Mr Bell’s comments in turn followed the release of Department of Health figures suggesting more than a fifth of all five-year-olds in the island are obese or overweight.
Manx Sport and Recreation’s sport development manager Paul Bridson said he believes obesity is ‘spiralling out of control’, and the knock on costs to the health service, workforce and other areas are burdens that are increasing dramatically.
The Physical Activity on Referral Scheme for adults (over 16s) and its junior counterpart Fit for the Future now allows health professionals to prescribe exercise, rather than medication or therapy, for a range of weight-related ailments. Since its inception 18 months ago the scheme has provided free supervised 12-week programmes for around 600 adult referrals and 100 children.
‘We’re trying to beat the drum that by investing in physical activity, the long term savings can be significant,’ said Mr Bridson. ‘The kids come in two or three times a week. They tend not be involved in PE classes or a sports club because of being bullied. Their life is very sedentary. Some don’t learn to swim because they don’t like how their body looks.
‘We give them opportunities in a safe environment, it’s positive and encouraging to improve confidence, and to start to make physical activity the norm.’
He listed successes including a girl who lost four stone, who had been skipping PE at school, and now goes out for regular walks. Levels of people keeping up some form of exercise after completing the scheme are reportedly around 90 per cent.
‘There is a woman who was on a waiting list for a gastric band,’ added Paul. ‘She has lost so much weight through the scheme she’s off the list because she doesn’t need the surgery, surgery that probably would’ve cost the best part of £30,000.’
The adult scheme makes use of existing facilities and sessions, though Fit for the Future includes tailor made initiatives.
‘In summer we took the kids on a Snaefell challenge, and a ramble on the old railway lines. It’s all about fun,’ said Paul.
The junior scheme is funded by the departments of Community, Culture and Leisure; Education; Health and Social Care.
Mr Bridson said: ‘The scheme’s in its infancy, but the departments realise it ties in with their own objectives.
‘The adult scheme is 100 per cent funded by the Department of Health. They give us the money, we deliver the programme. We want this to continue. All we can keep doing is keep providing the evidence that this works.’