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Priority 2: Physical health and wellbeing

Health and Wellbeing Board member Lee Monk, Relationship Manager at Active Essex, explains why we have chosen physical health as a priority in this strategy:

Getting moving and enjoying local spaces

Different factors affect how active someone is. These include age, culture, time pressures, and income. Some groups of people are less likely to be active compared to others. These include:

  • people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups
  • people who identify as LGBTQ+
  • people who have a learning disability or a long-term health condition
  • people on low incomes
  • females
  • children and young people
  • older adults

Our aim is to get more people in Castle Point and Rochford moving more as part of everyday life. We plan to do this by influencing local planning decisions to develop healthier places to live. We also want people to have the confidence to try new things. We want them to explore and travel around their local area in an active way. Using tools like the Active Essex Activity Finder and Forward Motion Journey Planner can help to achieve this by highlighting the many opportunities that are available. 

This is important not just because of the benefits it brings to physical and mental health, but for our environment too. If more people choose to walk or cycle to school, work and their local shops, this will reduce car journeys and congestion, increase activity levels, and improve air quality in our neighbourhoods.

COVID-19 has impacted on physical health

COVID-19 affected the way we all live, learn and work. It has impacted on jobs, finances, education, families, caring responsibilities, and social life and has placed immense pressure on essential workers. Some groups have been affected more than others. Health inequalities have widened too as a result. This means we need to focus more of our efforts towards those whose needs are greatest.

The healthcare system has been affected by the pandemic. Some people have avoided seeing their GP, dentist, optician, or pharmacist during the pandemic, which may have led to their physical health getting worse. Appointments for routine check-ups, screening, and health checks have been delayed or cancelled. There are now also increased waiting times for operations.

The way in which physical health services operate will change as we recover from the pandemic:

  • some services will have an online / digital offer
  • more emphasis will be placed on supporting people to self-manage their physical health and wellbeing
  • there will be a greater role for our VCFSE sector to work with statutory services

As a Health and Wellbeing Board we will support this agenda where we can, as we work more closely with PCNs and the South East Essex Alliance.

People’s lifestyles have also been affected by the pandemic. For example, restrictions meant there were less opportunities for people to be active. Although a lot of activities moved online, not everyone could access these. For some they were not appealing because they lacked a face-to-face element. As a result, more people have become inactive. Some have physically deconditioned. This means they have experienced a loss of stamina, fitness, and muscle strength. 

The pandemic, however, brought new opportunities to help people to be more active:

  • Additional resources, including funding, to reach more people
  • Changing work patterns enabled some people to introduce healthier habits
  • We found new ways of engaging people. More people are taking part in online classes, community-led schemes and using recycled bikes
  • People engaged with and are valuing nature, outdoor spaces, and gardens

Healthier food habits

Almost three quarters (73.7%) of adults in Castle Point and nearly two thirds (62%) of adults in Rochford are classified as overweight or obese15. Castle Point has the highest rates of adult overweight and obesity in Essex, and the second highest in the East of England region. Similarly, around a fifth of reception aged children and a third of year 6 pupils are classed as overweight or obese16. This is one of the key aspects of physical health that we will focus our efforts on over the course of this strategy: supporting more people to be a healthier weight.

To achieve this, we need to:

  • Improve everybody’s access to healthy, affordable food
  • Increase people’s skills and knowledge to be able to prepare healthy meals and make better informed decisions about what they eat
  • Encourage families to establish healthy habits. This can help children to maintain them as they go through life.

Jo, 33, is juggling work and home responsibilities while looking after her 5-year old son Ethan. She feels short on time and orders takeaways several times a week. She is drinking more alcohol than she used to as it helps her relax. She has gained weight over the last year. Her son Ethan is also overweight. 

Jo’s employer offers a free workplace health scheme that provides information and advice about how to make healthier lifestyle choices. Through this she has found out about free online workouts that she can do at home at a time that suits her, and the Better Health campaign, which provides advice about losing weight, getting active and drinking less. Jo has downloaded the NHS Drink Free Days app to track her alcohol intake.

During the school holidays Ethan goes to a holiday activity club. As part of this programme children receive advice on healthy eating and take-home resources, including recipe ideas that can help Jo plan some healthy meals that she and Ethan can make together.   

Healthier lifestyle choices

Lifestyle factors, including obesity, affect our risk of developing long-term health conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease (CHD), Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. There is a distinct difference in the prevalence of these conditions within Castle Point compared to Rochford. When ranked by Essex Lower Tier Local Authority, Castle Point ranks in the top three for the following:

In comparison, Rochford is in a better position and does not rank in the top three most prevalent for any of these conditions17.

Long-term conditions are a major cause of poor quality of life. They directly impact on health status and have an indirect impact as they can affect the amount or type of work someone can do. Being in good quality work is important for good physical and mental health.

Steve, 43, is a plumber. He smokes 20 cigarettes a day, is overweight and has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Steve’s GP has recommended that he stops smoking and loses some weight, but he is not motivated to do either. He is worried he’ll have to stop plumbing if his health gets worse and he won’t be able to find another job easily.  

A friend told Steve about a new ‘MAN V FAT’ Football league starting in Southend, but Steve lives on Canvey and doesn’t want to go all the way to Southend. He wishes there was something similar available nearer to where he lives.

Health and Wellbeing Board member Lee Monk, Relationship Manager at Active Essex, talks about the physical health campaigns we are supporting as part of this strategy: