Cheap gym sessions to tackle obesity

YOUNG people in Suffolk will be given reduced gym membership in a bid to get them fit and tackle growing levels of obesity, it has emerged.

Craig Robinson

YOUNG people in Suffolk will be given reduced gym membership in a bid to get them fit and tackle growing levels of obesity, it has emerged.

The pilot scheme - one of only five to be launched nationwide - will start in April next year.

It aims to address the drop off in sport and physical activity levels among 16 to 25-year-olds by offering membership to gyms, health and leisure centres for just £5 a month.

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Last week the EADT revealed the cost of treating obesity could rise to as much of £65million a year by 2050 unless efforts are made to improve people's health.

Fit for the Future Suffolk - which is part of the county council's 2012 Olympic Games legacy action plan - will be launched in Babergh, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury.

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The Department of Health has awarded £250,000 for the project - with most of this to be invested in local gyms, health and leisure centres.

It is thought that around 1,000 young people will benefit from the scheme, which if successful will be rolled out across the whole of Suffolk.

The areas have been chosen to specifically focus on rural issues of access and transport that might contribute to the “drop off” in participation among young people.

Between 15 and 20 private and public health, fitness and leisure clubs are expected to sign-up to the scheme, which will run until April 2010.

Lisa Chambers, portfolio holder for cultural and economic development at Suffolk County Council said: “I am very pleased we are one of five councils in the country to have been selected to take part in this pilot.

“It truly demonstrates that Suffolk is at the forefront of stimulating and promoting healthier active lifestyles among young people.

“The project will also play a very important role in Suffolk's 2012 legacy plans to get more people across the whole of the county active and involved in sporting activities.

“This is also excellent news for Suffolk's economy, as families and businesses struggle in the current economic downturn. The project will help to promote the leisure economy at a time when many private sector providers are under pressure.”

It is estimated the current cost of tackling obesity in the county - where a quarter of adults are thought to be obese - is around £10m.

If current trends continue, it is thought that more than half of all adults in Suffolk will be obese by 2050 - 60% of men, 50% of women and about 25% of children.

The pilot scheme is being run in partnership with NHS Suffolk - which last month launched Healthy Ambitions, a 20 year action plan to make the county the healthiest in the country.

Sally Hogg, head of health improvement partnerships at the primary care trust, said: “As part of our work to improve the county's health and wellbeing, we encourage people to cut their risk of contracting preventable illnesses by taking steps such as maintaining a healthy weight.

“As such, we welcome initiatives which encourage people of all ages to think about their health and do something positive to improve it, such as taking more exercise and finding out about nutrition.”

Young people in the Babergh, Forest Heath or St Edmundsbury areas who would be interested in taking part in the pilot scheme should look out for more details in the New Year.

OVER 60s and under 16s will benefit from free swimming from April next year.

As part of the Olympic legacy scheme the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has awarded six local authorities in Suffolk £621,359 to subsidise the cost until 2011.

The only council not to apply for funding was Ipswich borough because they claim it will cost residents an extra £200,000 over the next two years.

A spokeswoman said the authority already provided “massive” support to sports and leisure - which includes many concessionary programmes for the over 60s and under 16s.

“At a time of economic restraint, it would be unreasonable to put this additional financial burden on the council tax payer,” she added.

“We are in discussions with the primary care trust and Suffolk County Council to see if there are ways in which we could bridge the gap and use this initiative to target free swims on groups who currently do not swim and have asked the Government to support this.”

Adam Baker, Suffolk project manager for the 2012 Games, added: “This forms another key strand of the Suffolk 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy plan, as we seek to use the momentum of the forthcoming London Games to promote interest and create more opportunities for people to take part in sport and physical activity.”

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