THE BLOG

We Must Tackle the Terrible Toll of Inactivity

11/04/2014 12:39 BST | Updated 10/06/2014 10:59 BST

When Terry joined a weight management service in Glasgow he tipped the scales at 158kg.

The 60-year-old had been diagnosed with type-II diabetes, sleep apnoea, hypertension and asthma, and although he was highly motivated, multiple attempts to lose weight had failed.

But 18 months later, after working with the physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists and other professionals who run the service, Terry had lost 50kg and was looking forward to enjoying a full and active retirement.

Central to his achievement was exercise but as two reports out this week demonstrate, the scale of the challenge to replicate his success and improve the nation's health is daunting.

The All-Party Commission on Physical Activity said that inactivity leads to an astonishing 37,000 deaths a year, which it noted 'is more than all deaths from murder, suicide and accidents combined'.

Meanwhile, the Nuffield Trust warned of a lack of awareness among people categorised as obese about the associated health risks they may face.

In a survey for the thinktank, 44 per cent of those who are obese said they had no concerns about serious illness due to their weight.

But let us be clear: being obese increases a person's chances of, among other things, heart disease, some types of cancer and stroke.

That is why, as a nation, we must get more active.

Physiotherapists are helping people of all ages to get moving, whether that's in schools, workplaces or the community.

They provide expert advice and guidance for people taking up exercise, and lead group sessions in the community for people with long-term conditions, for instance, or those recovering from other ill health.

The philosophy behind this work is obvious: prevention is better than the cure.

But for some people, like Terry, more intensive work is needed and that's why weight management programmes like Glasgow's are so essential.

The service was established in 2004 and includes three phases.

The first two phases focus on lifestyle intervention and look at diet, physical activity and psychology.

By the end of phase one alone, which lasts 18 weeks, 40 per cent of patients have lost at least 5kg.

Phase three is led by physiotherapists and involves exercise classes, called Get Started, that are delivered over the course of a year.

Patients attend once a month and begin to plan how they are going to maintain their increased activity levels after they are discharged from the service.

The classes also feature taster sessions to introduce patients to new activities, such as Zumba, badminton and belly dancing.

By offering a diverse a range of options, the patients are shown regular exercise does not need to be along the conventional lines that perhaps discouraged them in the past.

The approach works, as Terry's story shows.

And it is equally applicable for children - a service was launched in Tower Hamlets six years ago when the area had the third highest childhood obesity level in England.

By the second year of the scheme, while national childhood obesity rates were rising, they were falling in Tower Hamlets. The service now receives 35 new referrals a month.

These services are both the prevention and the cure - by tackling obesity and guiding people towards healthier lifestyles, physios are helping them to avoid the onset of serious ill health in later life, improving their quality of life and saving money for the NHS.

They are a critical component in the fight against obesity and need to be made more widely available across the country.

Terry's story should be an inspiration for other people in his situation; the service that supported him must be the template for action.