January offers the chance for people to make a fresh start – New Year’s resolutions for a happier and healthier future.
It is a time to get up and go the gym, to cut down on the calories and to kick your less than attractive habits to the curb.
As a result, it’s a busy month for national and local health workers as they try to help members of the public make the most of their enthusiasm through various innovative and potentially life-changing campaigns.
I visited some of the individuals responsible for projects at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Shire Hall HQ, armed with a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola I could do without.
After explaining to Ailsa Lyons, health improvement specialist for the authority, that I was keen to ditch my habit of drinking one bottle a day, she pointed me in the direction of ‘Smart Swaps’ – a national campaign set up by Public Health England’s Change4Life initiative.
She said: “The purpose is to get members of the public to sign up and make a relatively small change which could make a significant improvement to their diet.
“This could be swapping a sugary fizzy drink for a sugar-free alternative like water or milk, or reducing the amount of fat in your milk.
“Once you sign up you will receive free money-off vouchers and recipe ideas.”
Like all of the campaigns I heard about, Smart Swaps is designed for participants to sign up in January but with the hope they will see benefits and want to continue through 2014.
For example, if I manage to ditch my daily guilty pleasure for the entire year, I will avoid almost 20 1kg bags of sugar – a frightening amount when plonked down in front of you!
Lesley McFarlane is a weight management practitioner with Cambridge Community Services NHS Trust, which is one of many organisations working with the council on the campaigns.
She told me: “Apart from the obvious financial gain, there will be big benefits for your health by cutting this sugar out your diet.
“Your weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) will reduce, which will leave you less vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2.
“Your oral health will also improve, and it helps improve blood pressure and breathlessness symptoms.”
The drive to reduce obesity in Cambridgeshire is also the aim of the Community Health and Improvement Programme (CHIP), spearheaded by Marie Clare Smiley.
The free programme of eight fortnightly sessions helps adults lose weight, with the emphasis on reading food labels, portion sizes and changing habits, while sister programme Energize is targeted at children aged 7 to 11 who are above their healthy weight range.
Marie Clare said: “These are fun and interactive sessions with a family focus, and are absolutely free. My advice is for people to give it a go and start making a change in 2014.”
A project that has attracted nationwide media coverage this month is Dry January, which is being rolled out nationally by Alcohol Concern and locally by Cambridgeshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team.
Joseph Keegan, leading the county’s efforts, said: “Last year, 4,500 individuals signed up nationally to give up alcohol for the month – so far in 2014 almost 20,000 are taking part.
“The message is to take the chance to lose weight, feel better, save money and make a difference. People can also raise money for Alcohol Concern, helping those in need.”
Finally, the council is also working hard to promote the new Smokefree Health Harms campaign, highlighting the poisons that cigarettes create in the blood.