Personal trainers for poorer communities

PERSONAL health trainers, provided by the NHS, will work in deprived Suffolk communities to tackle rising levels of obesity and help people make better lifestyles choices, it has emerged.

Lizzie Parry

PERSONAL health trainers, provided by the NHS, will work in deprived Suffolk communities to tackle rising levels of obesity and help people make better lifestyles choices, it has emerged.

The scheme - in conjunction with NHS Suffolk's Healthy Ambitions campaign - will initially see six trainers recruited to some of the county's most deprived areas.

They will help people stop smoking, lose weight, learn to exercise and stem the rise in sexual health problems.

If successful, the trainers who live and work in their communities, will be rolled out across the whole of Suffolk.

Sally Hogg, head of health improvement partnerships at NHS Suffolk, said the aim was to give people with the greatest need a “visible and accessible” support network.

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“Health trainers will give support from next door, living and working in the communities they serve,” she said.

“They will help people develop personal plans, identifying the barriers people have to healthy lifestyles.”

Difficulties people encounter preventing them pursuing healthy lifestyles vary from person to person, for example an individual may not have a healthy diet because they cannot cook whereas others may not get enough exercise, she said.

The role of the health trainers will be to engage with local people individually and motivate them to change harmful habits, such as smoking, and combine a healthier diet with a more active lifestyle.

The emphasis will be on how people's behaviour can directly affect their health now and in the future.

They can guide people to appropriate local services, encouraging and supporting people to make use of the facilities they have on their doorstep.

The Primary Care Trust (PCT) has high hopes for the scheme with future plans to eventually extend it

into other areas.

Mrs Hogg said: “The whole idea of supporting people at the level appropriate to them is excellent. We have high hopes for the scheme. It is very new idea though and nobody has long term evaluations yet.

“There are already very good models from the Royal Mail and the Army that have employed health trainers successfully.

“They will give people one to one meetings or small group sessions, it is important to note they are not going to be health professionals and so we will not be expecting them to fill that role. They are primarily there to help people access to the help they need and to give them the confidence to improve their health.”

Although Suffolk is one of the healthiest areas in England, some of the population still suffer persistent health problems and inequalities exist.

The trainers will prioritise and target the most deprived areas of the county, where the health inequalities are greatest.

They will focus on areas in Haverhill, the Town and Bridge ward of Ipswich and East Ipswich.

The proposals to introduce health trainers were outlined in the Government's 'Choosing Health' White paper in 2004.

The scheme targeted the most deprived areas of the country in 2005 before being gradually introduced to other regions recently.

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