Walking meetings and walking breaks were among the ideas suggested at West Sussex County Council to try to reduce obesity.
Members were discussing £85million of recent cuts to the government’s public health budget, which had ‘stymied’ the ongoing efforts of local authorities to improve people’s lifestyles.
A notice of motion was tabled by Cllr Dr James Walsh (LD, Littlehampton East) in which he asked the council to write to the government and call for more investment, with ‘fair and equitable funding for West Sussex’.
Cllr Dr Walsh and Cllr Dr Kate O’Kelly (LD, Midhurst) praised the work of the council’s own public health team and stressed the importance of a preventative approach to healthcare, both for the sake of residents and the public purse.
Cllr Dr Walsh, pictured below, called the current obesity epidemic a ‘huge and rapidly growing crisis’, caused largely by people consuming too much sugar and carbohydrates, while not getting enough exercise.
Describing prevention as ‘vital’, Cllr Dr O’Kelly said called for more efforts to be made by employers to keep their workforce healthy.
Speaking during what would be a five-hour meeting recently, she said workers should be expected to take walking breaks during the day, and asked why meetings could not be held while walking, rather than sitting at desks.
“It is absurd for the government to be reducing our public health grant. The public health budget is decreasing year-on-year until 2020,” she said.
Accusing central government of driving local government ‘into the ground’, she added: “It’s time to call this government out. This and other councils are doing their level best to cope – but enough is enough.”
Cllr Dr Walsh’s notice of motion called on the council to ‘condemn’ the government’s decision to ‘sneak out’ news of the funding cut just before Christmas.
While unwilling to do that, Cllr Amanda Jupp, the county’s cabinet member for adults and health, tabled an amendment which ‘expressed disappointment’ instead.
Cllr Mrs Jupp (C, Billingshurst) said: “Public health is the golden thread throughout everything we do in the county. And if we don’t embed it in the county council, we’re not going to get anywhere.
“We have really done some very good things since the transition of public health to local government in 2013.
“We need to review public health spend against public health outcomes to ensure the quality of services remain high and are effective for our residents.”
Public Health England has West Sussex listed as 19th out of 150 authorities for its efforts to tackle childhood obesity.
That work has included working with primary school meal provider Chartwells to reduce sugar in children’s meals by 73 per cent over the last four years.
There was no extra cost for the scheme – which benefited 30,000 pupils per day.
Report by Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter