Mo Chaudry: "We need to think bigger to tackle obesity in Stoke-on-Trent"

We have a number of health challenges in our city. Figures from Public Health England show that 22 per cent of Year 6 children – and almost 27 per cent of adults – are classed as obese.

“Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live" said motivational speaker Jim Rohn and yet, so many people understand 'healthy living' to be merely a reaction to combat weight gain.

In complete contrast, healthy living is exactly as its name suggests. A way of living. It certainly isn't something that can be measured by a number on the scales on which we stand watching our self-esteem ebb away.

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This is not about simply reducing the amount of sugary drinks consumed. This is not tackling the source of the problem.

It is imperative that we re-programme our children's understanding of healthy living, altering its definition to include taking responsibility, making smart health choices for today and for the future, eating healthily, and looking after our physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.

Jamie Oliver campaigned to change the nation's eating habits – starting a revolution to change the way school dinners were prepared.

Given our recent title of European City of Sport 2016, Stoke-on-Trent must begin its own revolution.

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It must be:

A revolution that engages both the private and public sector and provides a solution to the health challenges faced;

A revolution that provides solutions to the barriers faced by schools, parents and children;

A revolution that is proven to enhance academic performance and therefore career prospects;

A revolution that could change habits for life, help people live longer, and reduce the current strain on the NHS from obesity;

A revolution that promotes swimming as a necessity within Stoke-on-Trent.

The National Curriculum states that by the end of Key Stage 2 all children should be able to swim a minimum distance of 25 metres unaided.

While there remain a number of challenges which must be faced in order to fully integrate swimming, I believe that they can all be overcome by the public sector and private sector working together cohesively.

A lack of access to facilities has been outlined as one of the key reasons why schools struggle to offer their pupils comprehensive swimming lessons. However, M Club and WaterWorld have access to four pools and can accommodate more than 1,000 children a week, as well as offering qualified swimming instructors and a much higher ratio of lifeguards to ensure a safe environment.

The second obstacle comes as a result of children suffering with a lack of confidence due to weight gain, low self-esteem or fear of the water itself.

Close partnerships with the private sector and subsequently highly qualified, sensitive instructors, helps to rebuild this confidence.

Importantly, WaterWorld also offers a fun reward to follow swimming lessons, allowing children to use the water rides and wave pool.

Although swimming is generally accessible for children with additional needs and restrictive physical challenges, partnerships with the private sector can offer additional support.

For example, at WaterWorld, a beach-entry poolside means wheelchair access is possible and that children with disabilities can easily enter the pool.

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Figures show 23.1 per cent of school children are from a minority ethnic group. With this comes further challenges due to the cultural and religious sensitivities.

Again, M Club is well placed to provide girls-only swimming sessions with access to our ladies-only gym, Body Fit Express.

WaterWorld is also well placed to offer such privacy and we find that the aqua park is regularly booked on a private hire basis by female-only groups from around the country.

Given the challenges faced, many ethnic female groups never learn to swim and suffer from self-confidence issues. Working with the private sector offers a safe, reassuring environment to learn.

This revolution is important and ultimately would create dramatic transformations within Stoke-on-Trent and result in a more active, healthy generation of young people.

However, it requires out-of-the-box thinking and for the influential figures within the city to be bold and take decisive and innovative approaches.

Let's think bigger. Let's promote a sport that increases energy levels, lowers stress levels, improves strength, flexibility and posture and promotes a positive mental outlook.

Let's create a legacy for the City of Sport 2016 because, connected, we can do so much more for our children.


Sophie Attwood