Column: How to make a town healthy

There was an interesting article on the BBC news recently about a GP in Fleetwood, Lancashire who wants to see improvements in health for the whole town.

Columnist Dr Mary Wren
Columnist Dr Mary Wren

The town is an area of high deprivation with reduced life expectancy in some areas.

For many years GPs have been encouraged to talk about stopping smoking, reducing weight , drinking less etc .

All the things that people don’t really want to hear and often the things that actually give some pleasure in the day, if we are honest.

So, it is not surprising that years of trying to persuade people to live differently hasn’t made much difference to overall health in an area such as Fleetwood.

GP Mark Spencer is overseeing a year-long project called Healthier Fleetwood and interestingly the focus is on “what makes me well” rather than “what makes you ill”.

Dr Spencer says “people don’t need a wellness pill. They need hope. They need to be able to look forward to tomorrow.

They need to choose to be healthier today so that they can enjoy tomorrow with their children and their grandchildren.

Hope, a sense of purpose and control over your own life and your environment will bring major health benefits for individuals and the whole community.”

So the project is encouraging things like creating more green spaces in the town and encouraging local people to look after them.

Volunteer gardeners will also look after elderly people’s gardens, which is positive for the volunteers but also gives company to the elderly.

Instead of focusing on what not to eat, there is work to help people cook well.

Basic cookery lessons are planned and an encouragement to get generations cooking and eating together.

Then there is a scheme where the GPs can prescribe exercise classes for those who want it.

When I look at what is available in Sheffield, many of these things are already happening.

There are many options to volunteer, prescription exercise schemes and cookery classes in some areas too.

I think the main message of this project is about turning negatives into positives. Thinking about what can make us well rather than battling and losing with what makes us ill. Choosing to look at what we can change rather than what we can’t.

It will be fascinating to see the results in Fleetwood. My instinct is it could really work.

Some things are simpler than we think.