The government has awarded nine towns in England a slice of a £30 million pie to help encourage residents to lead healthier lifestyles through better diets and more exercise, and thereby turn the tide against the swelling rate of obesity in the country.

Crowned ‘Healthy Towns’, Dudley, Halifax (Calderdale), Sheffield, Tower Hamlets, Thetford, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Tewkesbury and Portsmouth are members of a new movement called Change4Life, which carries the tag line ‘eat well, move more, live longer’ and was created to help enhance the lives of families in England by improving diet, exercise and general attitudes to good health.

As a spokesman for the Department of Health explained to PharmaTimes UK News, the 160 applicants for Healthy Town status each had to submit plans for how healthy eating and physical activity would be promoted in their areas should funding be granted and, after a rigorous selection process, nine were ultimately chosen which were considered to have the most innovative, ambitious and coherent ideas for creating healthier lifestyles amongst their communities.

For example: the Points4Life loyalty scheme in Manchester will offer free activities or healthy food to people when they exercise; the Let's Go Outside project in Dudley aims to convert parks and play areas into “family health hubs”; and social housing tenants in Halifax (Calderdale) will have access to a grow your own fruit and vegetables scheme.

“To combat the obesity epidemic we are creating an unprecedented coalition for better health that already spans activists, grassroots organisations, local clubs, councils and community centres,” Health Secretary Alan Johnson said. “From January onwards, families will start to see new local initiatives providing support and advice to help them live more healthily.”

Currently there are no plans to select and award funding to a second batch of Healthy Towns in the near future, the DH spokesman said, but learnings from the project will be shared around the country so that other areas can follow suit in trying to boost the health of the nation.

New strategy
Change4Life is a key weapon in the government’s arsenal against the obesity epidemic, and was first outlined as part of a ground-breaking strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives unveiled earlier this year to “bring together employers, individuals and communities to promote children's health and healthy food; build physical activity into our lives; support health at work; and provide incentives more widely to promote health”.

It is hoped that initiatives under the strategy will have a significant impact on slowing down the current epidemic of obesity, for, in England alone, nearly a quarter of adults and a fifth of children are now obese and the situation looks set to get far worse. According to last year’s Foresight report on obesity, by 2050, nearly 60% of the UK will be obese, costing a whopping £45 billion and thereby placing a massive strain on the healthcare system.