Billions of reasons to get off the couch

LATEST research has revealed that the so called 'couch potato' lifestyles are costing the National Health Service more than £1billion a year.Today reporter Frances Leate investigates.

LATEST research has revealed that the so called 'couch potato' lifestyles are costing the National Health Service more than £1billion a year.

Today reporter Frances Leate investigates.

ARE you a bit too fond of the sofa?

Do you take enough exercise? Are you a couch potato?

Today, latest published figures suggest that not only is the couch potato lifestyle having a very negative effect on our children but it is also having a serious financial impact on our economy.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, estimates couch potatoes were directly responsible for 3per cent of all deaths and illness in 2002.

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This landed the NHS with a £1.06 billion bill through in-patient stays, outpatient appointments, drugs, community care and visits to primary care practitioners.

According to the dictionary definition a couch potato is “a person who spends most of his free time sitting or lying on a couch.”

It sounds simple enough but this stereotype often refers to lazy and overweight men who watch a lot of television, sometimes in their underwear and sometimes drinking beer.

But a being a couch potato isn't the exclusive preserve of fellas.

The term also refers to a lifestyle in which children don't get enough physical activity

But how do we break the cycle of the 'couch potato' mentality?

Copleston High School, in Copleston Road, Ipswich has given a lot of time and attention toward encouraging their students to get involved in sporting activities.

As well as a compulsory two hour PE lesson once as week the school encourages children to take part in a variety of activities ranging from main stream sports such as football, rugby and netball to less common pursuits like fencing and archery.

John Yorke, head of PE at the high school, said: “We do different types of activity to try to encourage an active lifestyle.

“It's trying to find something for everybody, something each individual can enjoy and carry on outside school.”

John emphasised the importance of a variety of physical activity taking place in the school environment.

He said: “I am sure that, for some students, the only physical activity they get is in their PE lessons but your hoping that they get enough of an interest that they take it further and continue their activity after leaving school and will become lifelong habit.”

While John recognised a general enthusiasm among boys to take part in sport, particularly competitive sport such as football, he also identified reluctance in older year 11 girls, from the 15 to 16 age group, to take part in physical activity.

He said: “Our year 11 girls have been doing martial arts, kick boxing and basic self-defence, and they seem to prefer more individual activities such as aerobics but there is reluctance in young girls to take part in competitive sports.”

Variety and choice seem to be the key to getting kid's active and breaking the habit of the 'couch potato' mentality, but with an ever growing barrage of computer games, TV channels, and music systems getting youngsters outside is not always easy.

A department of health spokesman said the government was supporting measures to get people more active.

"A fitter nation means a healthier nation, which will produce real cost-savings for the NHS,' he said.

Are you a couch potato? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to

USING information from the World Health Organisation, researchers counted the amount of disease and early death linked to physical inactivity and it was found that some 287,206 people died from diseases associated with a lack of exercise in 2003/4, of which over 35,000 were directly linked to physical inactivity.

These included

coronary artery

heart disease


breast and bowel cancers

and diabetes.

Despite the well-known health risks linked to lack of exercise, just a third of men and a quarter of women are meeting government physical activity targets.

Steve Shaffelburg, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research is yet more evidence showing how important physical activity is for our overall health, and especially for our heart health.”

All adults should aim to take at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, like brisk walking, swimming or gardening, five days a week, he added.

The term "Couch Potato" was first coined in 1976 by American underground comic artist Robert Armstrong.


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