A picture of health?

Judith Hooper
Judith Hooper

When painting a picture of the health of North Kirklees, two habits remain at the heart of the problem – cigarettes and alcohol.

Last week, it was revealed that almost one third of pregnant white mums in Dewsbury smoke when pregnant – the figure is more than a quarter for Batley.

A new health report reveals that Batley has “a problem with alcohol consumption because of drinking in 14-year-olds, levels of rowdiness, and drinking in women.”

Kirklees Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) shows obesity is steadily rising in adults, while long term pain, depression and anxiety still have the largest impact on local health. The increasing number of children and old people – plus the birth rate in the South Asian community – is putting more strain on stretched health services. By 2021, for every 160 working age people in Kirklees, there will be 100 non-working age people.

But the council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Judith Hooper, said there was much to be positive about in the report, the fourth produced since 2007.

“Things are generally getting better. There’s some really good news,” said Dr Hooper. “Deaths from cardiovascular disease are going down, obesity has flat-lined and physical activity has improved spectacularly across Kirklees.”

It does appear that we are getting off the sofa and getting fit more than we used to across the district. The number of 14-year-olds doing the recommended levels of physical activity has doubled from 2005 to 67 per cent. The figure has risen from one in four to one in three for adults – above the national average.

More young people are making healthier choices in not smoking, eating more healthily and fewer are drinking regularly or being sexually active.

Dr Hooper said: “The one group we are having trouble with is women of childbearing age – between 18-44 – particularly in Dewsbury and Batley. 27 per cent are smoking – way behind the national average and one in three are regularly binge drinking. Also, it’s the only group where obesity has significantly gone up.

“We’ve done a lot of work with this group on how they feel about themselves. They say they feel a lot of pressure, with kids, partners, parents and in-laws - they don’t have much time left for themselves.

“In Dewsbury and Batley there are lots of complex problems people have to deal with. The results is some people turn to booze and cigarettes simply as a way of coping.”

The JSNA too highlights deep-rooted and complex problems which affect our area. It reads: “Although North Kirklees is more deprived than elsewhere, possibly even a greater factor impacting on local health is the lower levels of social pride and trust felt in the North Kirklees, particularly in Dewsbury and Batley. This affects local people by increasing stress and thus increasing risk of ill health and disease.”

Though exam results are improving, Dr Hooper stressed the importance of the link between poor educational achievement – in Dewsbury, 40 per cent of adults have no qualifications at all – unemployment, low self-esteem and general health.

“Food remains the issue with the greatest scope for change in addressing rising tide of obesity,” added Dr Hooper. “One of the challenges we face is getting people to manage their household budgets.”

She said the council was taking people round supermarkets to show them how to eat healthily on a budget. “Some people think buying fast food or processed food is cheaper than buying basic ingredients. I know families of two or three who are spending a couple of hundred pounds a week on fast food and processed food.”

Ultimately, Dr Hooper stressed the need to increase independence and sense of control over their own lives and wellbeing. “Pamphlets and GPs can only do so much,” she said. “We can get accused of being too much of a nanny state. People need to be having these conversations themselves in the pubs and cafes – that’s the only way we are going to do it.”

She added: “We need to support people to manage their own health, especially those with long term health conditions, and encourage everyone to adopt behaviours that enable them to cope and be resilient to life’s challenges.”

There are many initiatives in place which will help address some of the challenges outlined in the report. These include ‘Connect to Support’ – providing support for adults with social care needs (www.connecttosupport.org/kirklees) and the pain website www.kirkleespersistentpain.com which offers people tips to better manage their pain.