One in four of us are too fat

HERE in the East of England we have emerged as Britain's slimmest this week, but today JAMES MARSTON discovers Ipswich people are the fattest in the county.

HERE in the East of England we have emerged as Britain's slimmest this week, but today JAMES MARSTON discovers Ipswich people are the fattest in the county. Nationwide health profiles published this week show nearly a quarter of people living in the town is obese.

IT'S not just that people in Ipswich are fatter than the rest of Suffolk.

Ipswich folk also eat much less healthily than the rest of the UK. Published this week by the Department of Health, the health profile for England provides a fascinating insight into how we live.

Designed to provide the most comprehensive picture yet of the state of the public's health, the document shows a continuing north-south health divide.

The profiles reveal men in northern counties die on average two years earlier than their southern equivalents - partly because of higher obesity levels and smoking-related disease.

Department of Health figures showed in August that millions more adults and children will be obese by 2010 without dramatic action. The report also shows that the UK has the highest obesity rate in Europe. At the local level the report shows that in Ipswich 23.3 per cent-nearly a quarter-are obese, 1.5pc above the above the national average of 21.8pc.

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Suffolk wide 21.2 pc-more than one in five-are obese.

Compared to the East of England figure of 20.9pc, an even larger proportion of Ipswich people are overweight.

Norman Foster, from the public health team at Suffolk Primary Care Trust said the obesity figures issued by the Department of Health were only estimates but did provide a good guide to the situation in the county.

He said: “As estimates it would be unfair to pick on Ipswich as opposed to the rest of Suffolk. We know we have a got a big problem with obesity both in adults and children, not just in Ipswich but across Suffolk.

“We have to work together to combat this problem. Everyone has to take responsibility for themselves but they also do need support and help form health professionals.”

Public Health minister Caroline Flint wants to see an NHS geared as much towards preventive work as treatment, with joint working between town planners, businesses and individuals to improve health.

“What we know is that whether on obesity or how long you live, some parts of the country are doing better than others,” she said.

“We cannot solve all of it from central Whitehall but we can give them the tools to get on with it locally.

“The rapid increase in child and adult obesity over the past decade is storing up very serious health problems for the future.

“Effective action on diet and exercise will help to tackle future heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a range of factors critical to health like mental well being.

“We have learnt that often parents who are overweight or obese find it difficult to assess their children's weight status and appreciate the associated health risks for their children and themselves.

“Parents are not always embracing healthy eating and active lifestyles as they are perceived to be too challenging. We want to support parents to make them feel more able to make the changes that are needed to make a big difference to their own - and their children's lives.

“This new approach will invigorate and consolidate the work we have been doing successfully across government, with industry, voluntary sector and private sectors. Supermarkets, schools, bus companies, pubs all influence the choices people make.”

Tony Blair agreed today that social, cultural and economic factors affected public health. He said: “The difficulty for us, to be very frank about it, is trying to balance not becoming a nanny state and telling everyone what to do, with trying to educate people that there are real choices which you make, that make a difference to your health and fitness and that in turn makes a difference to the whole of the country.

Are you or your children struggling to get slim? Does obesity concern you? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to

The proportion of obese children rose by over 40pc between 1995 and 2004.

Suffolk Health Profile

Suffolk is a predominantly rural area of 684,000 people. Population growth is expected to be similar to the regional average over the next twenty years.

Fewer than 1 in 5 people are under 16, in line with the region, and 1 in 4 is an older person - more than the regional average. 4 in 100 people are from minority ethnic groups.

Although deprivation and child poverty are below the national average, and in line with the regional average, almost 20,000 children live in low income households.

The population of Suffolk is relatively healthy with good general health and high life expectancy but there is a 6.3 year difference in male life expectancy between the most and least healthy wards across the county.

There are relatively low death rates from cancers and heart disease and stroke, but these still account for 7 of every 10 premature deaths and the death rate from cancers appears to be falling more slowly than the national rate.

Although estimates suggest that people lead relatively healthy lifestyles compared to England as a whole, nearly 1 in 4 adults smoke, 7 in 10 adults don't eat 5-a-day fruit and vegetables, 1 in 6 adults binge drink and over 1 in 5 is obese.

The number of people on GP mental health registers is quite low. This may be due to lower than average need, or to fewer people being identified or using services in primary care.

The number of people in treatment for drug misuse is low and hospital admissions due to alcohol are low.

The community strategy says there is a need to: improve educational achievement, particularly among vulnerable groups; reduce child poverty; reduce the numbers of premature deaths; and halt the rise in obesity.

Ipswich Health Profile

Ipswich is an urban area of 117,000 people and is the largest town in Suffolk.

The population has declined in the past 20 years, but is expected to grow in the next 20.

The proportions of children and older people (both 1 in 5) are similar to the regional average. Around 6 in 100 are from minority ethnic groups.

There is considerable deprivation compared with the region. A quarter of the population live in deprived areas, and job-seekers allowance claims are above the regional average.

Local authority housing quality is very good, but other 'quality of life' indicators such as air quality and the level of violent crime are relatively poor.

Infant mortality and child poverty are similar to the national average and so high for the region. Educational attainment is poor compared to the national average.

Most health measures are similar to the average for England, although female life expectancy is high and self-reported health is good. The gap in life expectancy between the highest and lowest areas is 5.9 years.

Estimates of people's lifestyles suggest that these are similar to national rates. 1 in 4 adults smokes, 1 in 6 binge drinks and fewer than 1 in 4 is obese. Around 1 in 5 adults eat 5-a-day fruit and vegetables, which is below the average.

Diabetes is less common than nationally.

The road trauma rate for people using roads in the area is relatively high. This may differ from the road trauma death rates of local residents.

Alcohol-related hospital stays are also relatively high.

Local reports indicate that local partnerships are targeting crime, helping job seekers, improving road safety, focusing health initiatives on particularly deprived wards, and developing the Sure Start programme.