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Roadmaps to sustainable healthcare: How to make Health and Wellbeing Education More Inspiring, Relevant and Effective

Physical inactivity is estimated to cost the UK economy £7.4 billion and is an underlying factor for one in six deaths in the UK [1]. Continuation of this trend will affect not only the quality of life of individuals but also the demand on an already struggling health service, jeopardising the health systems’ long-term sustainability.

The positive correlation between physical activity and health benefits is traceable throughout people’s lives, highlighting the health gains that could be achieved if people were encouraged to be active from a young age.

While many public health initiatives and activities have tried to tackle this issue, childhood obesity is on the rise and today’s children are likely to be less healthy than their parents’ generation. Therefore, a new approach is needed.

To consider how health and wellbeing education could be made more inspiring, relevant and effective, AbbVie convened a breakfast discussion in March 2017. Held at The Royal Society of Medicine, attendees had the opportunity to hear from a panel of experts from the areas of education, health and community organisations that pitched their insights on what would make the greatest impact.

 

Panel photo

Richard Davis
Richard Davis, Teacher, Sandringham School, St Albans - Children as partners to finding an active solution

Co-creating solutions in partnership with the target population they are intended for was proposed as a method of inspiring young people, and helping them take ownership of the opportunities to optimise their relationship with physical activity during school hours.

This approach was implemented at Sandringham School in St Albans. The process of developing solutions harnessed students’ creativity through assemblies and workshops to determine how a healthier school day could be structured. Introducing a competitive element between student houses also increased engagement and the project has had a long-term impact on planning at the school. However, sustaining a whole school engagement was a learning along with managing the implications of changed behaviour by actions such as removing chairs from classrooms.

Although making children partners to help increase activity in schools is a way to make health and wellbeing education more effective, for this to be sustainable, curriculum reform would be required as well as redesign of the classroom space.


Liz Myers
Liz Myers Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sports, Liverpool John Moores University - Physical literacy

Increasing levels of physical literacy could also lead to improving health and wellbeing. It can be defined as the “motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life”.[2]

This holistic approach aims to revolutionise how we view physical activity. It is underpinned by the understanding that people are products of their experiences; therefore if, for example, an individual had a negative experience during a physical education (PE) lesson in school, they may be less motivated to take up sporting activities in their adult life.

Viewing physical literacy as an outcome of PE lessons in schools could provide individuals with the knowledge and confidence to undertake exercise, and overcome perceived or actual barriers to partaking in such activity and ultimately working towards changing behaviour patterns.   


Richard Weiler
Dr Richard Weiler, Sport & Exercise Medicine Doctor and Medical Officer Paralympics GB - Realising the value of physical education in schools

The national curriculum for physical education in England currently states that schools should provide students with the opportunity to become physically confident, enabling them to lead healthy and active lives[3]. Although there is an aspiration placed on schools to provide two hours of physical education every week, there is little direction on the quality and monitoring compared to other academic subjects.

There is evidence that students who are physically fit are likely to score higher on standardised tests measuring reading and math abilities across all socioeconomic groups[4]. In order to capitalise on the cognitive and physical benefits in schools senior leadership is required from government to raise the profile and importance of physical education within the curriculum.

Children, as future adults, are products of their upbringing and therefore it is critical that their time at school is utilised to encourage and embed healthy behaviours.


Joe Lyons
Joseph Lyons, Chief Executive, West Ham Foundation - The role of the community in improving physical activity
 

Community subscription programmes provide another way to make health and wellbeing education more effective.

Tailored programmes are best placed to address the health needs of the community. Through such schemes, GPs are able to refer patients into lifestyle groups who then signpost patients to suitable activities.

Pilot projects have shown that it is possible to utilise community groups to help people live healthier lifestyles, even after the prescribed length of the activity. Lifestyle advisers are able to monitor prescribed activities, before, during and after prescription to ensure that the correct referrals are being made and to assess the impact of the activity on the individual. Although pilots tend to have a high uptake, it is important that services are evaluated so a robust evidence base can be developed.

Community subscription programmes could be adopted more widely, particularly given the government’s mandate to NHS England to enable local communities to develop tailored solutions to meet the needs of their local populations.[5]


Way forward

It is important to note that healthy behaviours are built and not changed rapidly. Therefore it is critical that pupils’ time in school and community activity are harnessed not only to improve health but also to make health and wellbeing education more inspiring, relevant and effective.


William Bird

Beat the Street – case study

Dr William Bird, CEO and Founder of Intelligent Health used AbbVie’s solutions over breakfast event to share an example of how physical activity is more engaging when it is inclusive and enjoyable.

“Beat the Street” is a fun, free game for Wolverhampton residents. Players can score points whilst walking, cycling or running from point to point during their daily journeys and tapping an activated game card on sensors placed on lamp posts across dedicated game routes.

Tapping the card at the start and end of a journey calculates the distance travelled. Points are awarded to each player and recorded against the card, accounting towards individual and team totals as well as the city’s overall challenge total.

Players can monitor their progress on the “Beat the Street” website and top scorers are also able to win prizes.

The game proved hugely popular in Wolverhampton, with 21,000 people registered to play in the first six days. Initiatives such as “Beat the Street” play a role in helping people to address inactivity issues and empower them to find solutions. 


 

References

[1] Sport England, Why tackling inactivity matters, Accessed on 27 March 2017

[2] International Physical literacy association, Defining physical literacy, Accessed on 27 March 2017

[3] Department for Education, National curriculum in England: physical education programmes of study, 11 September 2013

[4] Health Day, Fitter kids make better grades: study, August 2012. Accessed on 28 March 2017

[5] Department of Health, The Government’s mandate to NHS England for 2016-17. Accessed on 28 March 2017

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