By RYAN TAYLOR
A MAJOR drive designed to help people achieve and maintain an appropriate weight was approved by NHS chiefs this week.
The strategy, which promotes a healthy diet and the right level of physical activity, should help people struggling with weight issues and boost self-esteem.
A cash injection of £40,000 over the next two years will help introduce a weight management programme, known as Counterweight, across the isles.
A further £33,000 will also be used to tackle the problem of childhood obesity.
It is hoped the move will also ease the strain on the health service, which has only one post of dietitian – a position it has failed to fill on two occasions.
Speaking after the meeting at NHS Shetland’s Brevik House headquarters, health improvement manager Elizabeth Robinson said the programme would work out a routine to suit the individual in his or her area.
“It means that wherever people are needing support they don’t have to be referred to the dietitian,” she said.
“It’s about building up a portfolio, so if going to the gym suits you, that’s great, but if you prefer some other form of exercise that’s fine too.”
She said a long-term shift in attitudes was needed from a number of different agencies if weight problems were finally going to be effectively controlled.
“I think we are taking a very long term view. It has taken us 30 years to take on the smoking argument to the extent that we have,” she said.
“It will take a long time to change our current environment because everything is geared towards car driving.”
She highlighted the new flats currently being built at Grantfield in Lerwick, and how initial plans to build them without parking spaces for cars had been effectively shot down in flames.
“DITT was going to build some flats without car parking spaces. The planning department were initially behind it but there was a huge outcry,” she said.
Figures show obesity to be a growing problem in Scotland.
While the proportion of people classed as being overweight has remained constant at around 40 per cent since 1995, the prevalence of obesity rose from 16 per cent to 24 per cent from 1995 until 2003.
She criticised a Scottish Health Survey report which showed more people in Shetland, together with those in Orkney and the Western Isles, are saddled with obesity than anywhere else in the country.
Ms Robinson said the report was written after surveying only 60 people in Shetland and was therefore “based on very small numbers”.
Adding that more accurate figures would be available at a later date, she said the outlook was less gloomy than the report suggested.
“We don’t want to be complacent at all, but we don’t think Shetland is as bad as that.”
The strategy is not just concerned with obesity. Health board members were told babies and young children were among those particularly vulnerable to low weight levels.
But Ms Robinson said it was important to recognise the issues individuals were faced with.
“It’s all about eating healthily. You can be overweight but be malnourished, because you could be lacking in essential nutrients like vitamins and irons.
“Particular groups who tend to be malnourished are older people and underweight babies.”
The strategy has been developed by the health action team – a multi-agency body charged with leading on health improvement in the isles.
It is based on the findings of a seminar on obesity which took place in November 2006 and information from the Scottish obesity action resource.
Chairman of NHS Shetland Betty Fullerton said it was important healthy living was promoted across the isles.
“It’s up to us to promote good health, but this is in everybody’s interests,” she said.
Director of public health Dr Sarah Taylor said the health board had a responsibility to those who were providing the service to patients.
“We have a particular responsibility in the NHS to make sure people providing services are confident in what they can offer to help people manage their weight, whether that is GPs or community nurses,” she said.
The board’s vice chairman, Ian Kinniburgh, welcomed the news, but questioned whether weight problems were brought about by a low sense of self esteem, or the other way round.
“I think it’s a good document and very comprehensive, and I can see putting a focus on trying to educate young children will bring real long term benefits, if we can change the way they see weight issues and how they might effect them in the future,” he said.
“I’m not sure how successful it will be in encouraging people to make lifestyle changes – that’s a real challenge – but if you have weight problems it can generate problems.
“Part of this document is saying if you have weight problems it can generate low self esteem. Is this a chicken and egg situation, where people who have mental health problems become overweight as a result of that?”