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Healthy towns initiative improves lifestyle of residents

Researchers from the University of Gloucestershire have concluded that residents in the Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury have been encouraged to make healthier lifestyle choices thanks to a Healthy Towns initiative, which aimed to increase opportunities for local people to get active and eat healthily.

The researchers recently evaluated the Count Me In! Tewkesbury (CMI) project which ran between September 2009 and March 2011. The evaluation measured changes over the period of the project in resident's knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of health and well-being, as well as changes in their lifestyle choices. The research also looked at resident's experiences of living in one of the Healthy Towns and their engagement with the programme.

Findings show that among those who participated in the research, there have been improvements in physical activity, time spent outside, and consumption of fruit and vegetables. More people are also considering cycling as an alternative to car use. Residents who took part in family focus groups also reported changes in their families' diet - opting to have healthier choices, and home cooking.

The Healthy Towns project saw a number of changes to the physical infrastructure of the town to encourage active travel, such as cycle parking facilities and safe cycle routes. The evaluation showed that residents had noticed the changes and felt that the emphasis on healthy lifestyles in the community had increased.

 

Image courtesy of Tewkesbury Borough Council

Professor Diane Crone from the University of Gloucestershire led the team of four researchers who were looking into the project.

Professor Crone said: "The Healthy Towns project was aimed at the whole community including families and older people in Tewkesbury. A range of activities were developed over the project period including large-scale cycling events, walking maps, the building of cycle paths, healthy eating cooking classes and travel planning advice.

"We have discovered a number of interesting findings, for example that nearly 32% of those surveyed reported improved knowledge of their need for five-a-day fruit and vegetables and 41% improved the amount of physical activity they undertook each day.

"We also noted that a higher number of women than men engaged with the project, and that in respect to perception of health, there was an increased satisfaction with life generally amongst women surveyed. We can generally conclude that participants have a positive experience of living in Tewkesbury and as a consequence of the Healthy Towns initiative, there appears to be increased community cohesion within the town."

Dr Shona Arora, Director of Public Health for Gloucestershire said:
"The national funding for Count me In! gave us a unique opportunity to work with the Tewkesbury community and our partners on an ambitious programme to promote healthy lifestyles in the town. The evaluation shows that many residents engaged with the programme and have been influenced to make healthier choices. This is a positive result, which gives us some valuable insights into how we can make it easier for people and communities across the county to lead healthier lifestyles."

Tewkesbury Borough Council's Lead Member for Safer, Stronger and Healthier Communities, Councillor
Claire Wright said: "We are very committed to supporting the health and well-being of our residents so it is great to know that our Count Me In! project made a real difference to the lives of people living in Tewkesbury. There are still a wide variety of projects continuing as a direct result of Count Me In! including women's running networks, health walks and outdoor gyms.

"Clearly the project was an excellent way of encouraging and inspiring our residents to make healthier choices and we are proud to call Tewkesbury an official Healthy Town."

Tewkesbury was one of nine towns in England that successfully bid to be part of the government-funded Healthy Town initiative. Other towns taking part in the programme included Portsmouth, Manchester, Sheffield, Tower Hamlets in London, Halifax, Dudley, Middlesbrough and Thetford. The government funding was used to test out the programme across the nine areas to make active and healthy food choices easier for communities, as part of the Change4Life programme.

A link to the project evaluation can be found at

http://www.glos.ac.uk/research/dse/projects/Pages/tewkesfuture.aspx

More information about the Count Me In! Initiative can be found at http://www.countmeintewkesbury.com/

The Count Me In! programme was a partnership between Tewkesbury Borough Council, NHS Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire County Council, Active Gloucestershire, University of Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire First.

The evaluation was undertaken by Professor Diane Crone, Professor David James, Dr Mary Mahoney and PhD student Noreen O'Connell-Gallagher in the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Gloucestershire.

The University of Gloucestershire gained official university status in 2001 but has existed as an educational establishment for nearly 200 years. Our heritage lies in the Mechanics Institutes of the 1830s, with our Francis Close Hall campus founded in 1847 as the Cheltenham Training College. Today, we have three thriving campuses, Francis Close Hall and The Park in Cheltenham, and Oxstalls in Gloucester, which are occupied by approximately 10,000 students. In 2010, the University invested £5 million in teaching facilities including a new, state-of-the-art media and art and design studios.

The University of Gloucestershire delivers approximately 100 undergraduate course choices including accounting, law, business and management, fine art, TV production, humanities, leisure and tourism, social work and education plus and a diverse range of postgraduate and research degrees, and professional courses.

For more information visit www.glos.ac.uk

Source: University of Gloucestershire

 

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