CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Eat healthier food? We can’t afford to

GP calls for more free outdoor gyms

18 April, 2019 — By Richard Osley

LOW-income families are eating fast food and fatty dinners because they cannot afford healthier meals, the Town Hall has been warned.

Councillors were told that there were well-publicised warnings about the health risks of a poor diet and a lack of exercise, but poorer residents were finding it harder to get the balance right.

The alert came in a debate about the health of residents across the borough, which saw experts and professionals called into the main council chamber last week to help analyse inequalities.

Frances Hasler from Healthwatch Camden, a non-political body that scrutinises health services, said: “People do want to be healthy. They actually do know what good food is but they don’t have the money to buy it, or the time to prepare it. Very often people in very low-paid jobs are working very, very long hours just to make the astronomical rents that they are being asked to pay in the private rental market.”

Frances Hasler from Healthwatch Camden speaks at the meeting

While there is a long-standing national campaign to encourage people to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, convenience food is often a cheaper alternative.

Ms Hasler said: “Austerity is having an effect in all sorts of ways.”

She said that those working in low-paid jobs – often in the service industry – were eating unhealthy food because that’s what they are given.

She added: “If you are working in a fast food place that’s what you get given to eat, and if you have not got much money, that’s what you make your dinner out of.”

The meeting also heard from Dr Martin Abbas, a GP in Swiss Cottage who said residents sometimes did not know how to cook a healthier dinner.

He said patients came in with hypertension, diabetes, obesity and several other issues.

Dr Martin Abbas

“Why do I think this happening?,” asked Dr Abbas. “Well, there are genetic components to disease, but there are modifiable risk factors such as exercise, or lack thereof, and poor diet. Even though this is well highlighted in the media, this doesn’t seem to be taken up. The themes we see in these conditions are overeating, large portion sizes, eating foods that are high in processed fats, sugars and salts.”

He added: “The traffic light system on foods – I often mention it to patients, but often they say they don’t have the knowledge to cook, the knowledge to understand about healthy eating or the ability to cook.”

The doctor welcomed the installation of free gyms in parks and open spaces around the borough, and called for the council to extend the scheme with more equipment.

He said: “I wonder if these sorts of resources, which are used day-in, day-out throughout the year, could be expanded to ­other areas in Camden, perhaps using brownfield sites, and also around social housing developments. I’m sure there must be some space available.”

Social services chief Councillor Pat Callaghan said the council was ready to work with health experts to try and find a way to help residents eat better. She said: “People who could modify the risk factor but people won’t work with us. How do we get cleverer at doing that?”

She added that the open-air gyms were “brilliant” and the council would look at possibly installing more.

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