A few simple changes can help you to a better lifestyle

MOST of us know healthy eating and exercise are key ingredients to a better life.

A major health research project is set to help people across Tees Valley Get A Better Life – Karen McLauchlan found out how.

MOST of us know healthy eating and exercise are key ingredients to a better life. But just how far can making a few simple improvements change the health of a community? Get A Better Life is a major health promotion research project launched by Teesside University. It is aiming to discover whether a community challenge project can help people living in one of the UK’s capitals of obesity improve their lifestyles in 2008. Supported by Middlesbrough’s Evening Gazette newspaper and Middlesbrough NHS Primary Care Trust, university researchers aim to lift the lid on people’s eating and exercise habits and discover whether a programme of small, but significant, interventions can make local Tees Valley people healthier.

The project, led by the university’s Centre for Food, Physical Activity and Obesity, is funded by a £500,000 research grant from the Food Standards Agency. The aim is to get people to make two pledges: one small change to
their diet (either linked to decreasing fat intake or increasing fruit and vegetable intake) and one small change to their physical activity levels.

Volunteers will be asked to work towards the pledges for one year and keep records at three key dates during the year.

Frances Hillier, the project’s manager, explained: “Diet and physical activity data will be collected at the beginning of campaign, and at six and 12 months using an online computer program.

“This will help to give us a clearer picture of diet and physical activity behaviours among the adult population in the Tees Valley and to assess if the campaign has had any effect on these behaviours.”

Hundreds of people have already signed up to the initiative – and volunteers can still register until the end of April.

Professor Carolyn Summerbell, head of Teesside University’s Centre for Food, Physical Activity and Obesity, who is leading the Get A Better Life research programme, explained why the project was so important.

“Teesside has much work to do in improving its health record. We are failing the fitness test on levels of obesity and smoking. Every year heart disease and strokes cause more than 500 early deaths on Teesside leaving people in some areas of Middlesbrough with the same average life expectancy as those in North Korea, Mongolia and Guatemala.

“But we believe with Get a Better Life we can work towards changing that and help the region become more healthy.

“It would be wonderful in two or three years time if we can say we’re no longer the worst in the country and we are improving. That would be fantastic.”

The research is aimed at improving diet and physical activity and is the largest project of its kind carried out by the university

Peter Heywood, director of public health for Middlesbrough Primary Care Trust and Middlesbrough Council, added: “This is an ambitious project across Teesside specifically looking at whether making a pledge to change your own lifestyle really makes a difference.

“With such important challenges
such as increasing levels of obesity and poor levels of physical activity generally, this
could really help make a difference.” Data collection for the project will finish around Easter 2009, and the final project report will be produced in December 2009.

Anyone aged 16 or over living in the Tees Valley can take part by logging on to www.getabetterlifecampign.co.uk and clicking on the Sign Up Now link.

Answer a few questions about yourself and then fill in the Synchronised Nutrition and Activity Program for Adults – which asks you what you had to eat and drink, and the activities that you did in the last 24 hours. Then make your pledges.

Once you have registered, you will be able to have full access to the Get A Better Life website, which provides information and support to help you with your pledge. You can visit as often as you like.

After six and 12 months you will be asked to complete the survey again – providing vital data for the university’s experts, which will help shape the future of the region’s health.

You can also access more information about the campaign, and watch exclusive fitness videos by logging on to www.gazettelive.co.uk/betterlife

:: For more information visit www.getabetterlifecampaign.co.uk

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