The true scale of Blackpool’s chronic health crisis has today been revealed in the pages of a shocking new report.
The town has some of the poorest health and lowest life expectancy in the country amid a catalogue of serious health problems, according to the Public Health Annual Report.
It reveals more than one in four reception age children are now classed as obese. By the time they are 10 or 11, the figure is one in three.
The figure is no better among adults, with 29,000 people in Blackpool now classed as clinically obese.
The town also has a high number of people suffering chronic conditions, a high rate of hospital admissions for self harm and alcohol-related harm and early deaths from heart disease and cancer.
The number of women smoking in pregnancy, teenage pregnancy and life expectancy for men is the worst in the country, while rates of drug abuse are significantly worse than the English average.
And while the state of the town’s health overall is showing signs of improvement, it’s still lagging behind the rest of the country.
Blackpool’s director of public health today said some of the figures were “staggering” and “unacceptable.”
But despite the bleak research, he insisted the town’s health is finally heading in the right direction.
Arif Rajpura said: “It is not a surprise to see that we have higher levels of harmful drinking, drug use and smoking than other parts of the country, and I think we need to get all parts of society involved in helping to improve health.
“As well as individuals addressing their own health we need to look at the environment they live in. It means we need safe play areas for children, walking and cycling routes, smoke-free areas, health and low salt food options and access to good quality, affordable food.
“Through health commissioners, employers, planners, cafe owners, licensing and enforcement and community groups – we all have our part to play.”
Among the biggest concerns detailed in the report, compiled by Blackpool Council’s public health team, and released by Dr Rajpura this week, is the levels of child obesity – a problem he describes as an ‘epidemic’.
The report itself states that although the statistics are not dissimilar to the picture nationally, they remain “extremely worrying”.
A survey of school children found that only around one in four eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
Shockingly, eight per cent don’t eat any at all.
The dental health of children in Blackpool is considerably worse than the rest of the nation – more than one in three five-year-olds has at least one decayed, missing or filled tooth, and almost half of all 12-year-olds have at least one decayed, missing or filled tooth.
The picture is no better when looking at obesity figures for adults in Blackpool.
Around 29,000 adults in the town are clinically obese, and only a fifth of adults eat the recommended five a day.
At Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s maternity unit, one in 12 pregnant women – eight per cent – are clinically obese at the time of the 12-week scan which is almost double the national average.
Dr Rajpura said: “These are staggering statistics, and they are unacceptable statistics.
“Obesity is a national problem, and unless we do something here and now our future generations are going to have poor health. These issues start in childhood, and to see excess weight from reception class onwards is a worry.”
Obesity leads to high rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and joint problems.
Dr Rajpura said more needed to be done on a national level to tackle fast food outlets which sell unhealthy food at low prices.
“There is so much cheap, energy-dense food available, almost on every corner,” he said.
“Once in a while is fine, but when people are eating it day in day out, it’s adding to the obesity problem.
“In public health and environmental health we are look at working with fast food outlets to get more healthy options out there for the people of Blackpool. We are also trying to restrict the number of fast food outlets and sweetshops, especially outside schools.” Dr Rajpura said he was also keen to lobby the Government to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, like pop, which have no nutritional value.
“Lots of teenagers are drinking these drinks, and it’s just additional calories and extra sugar which is adding to the obesity problem,” he added.
Blackpool’s childhood obesity problems form just one part of the overview of the town’s health, as revealed in the report.
There is only one area where Blackpool is noted as being significantly better than the national average, and that’s homelessness.
Otherwise, the town is mostly marked as significantly worse than the England average across all areas of health, including drug and alcohol misuse, self harm and physical activity.
Dr Rajpura said a person’s lifestyle had the biggest impact on their health, from their education and where they work to their choices over drinking, smoking and diet.
He added it is a huge task to improve the state of the town’s health.
“There is no way we can underestimate the task in front of us,” Dr Rajpura said.
“But over the last few years, since I started working here in 2007, we have made significant progress in lots of areas.
“Back then, women smoking during pregnancy was 40 per cent – we were worst in the country, now we are the third worst.
“It’s still unacceptable, but it shows we are heading in the right direction.
“We need to improve the state of our health at a rate faster than the rest of the country to reduce the inequalities that exist between us and the rest of England.
“Blackpool is quite a deprived area with problems around employment, low-level education and a low wage economy.
“All of this, on top of the health issues, poor lifestyle and behaviour issues create a multitude of problems we have to try and turn around.
“Not to mention the transient population as people come to Blackpool and bring with them their own health and social problems for us to deal with.”
Dr Rajpura said the Blackpool Better Start money from the National Lottery would make significant improvements for generations to come.
Earlier this year the town won £45m from the Big Lottery over 10 years to help develop a long-term service to help parents of children up to three years old.
The money will be spent on providing key services to make sure babies born in Blackpool receive the early care and nurture they need for healthy development.
He said: “We aren’t going to see those improvements in the short term, but it’s certainly going to be a huge help for future generations.
“The health challenge is a massive one, but we are up for it. The public health team is really committed to making serious inroads, and we will achieve it.
“We don’t want to be on the bottom of the pile, as we have been for the last few years.”
Blackpool has the highest death rate in England for liver disease in people aged under 75.
Between 2010 and 2012 there were 161 deaths in Blackpool from liver disease below 75 and 148 were considered avoidable.
The town has the 10th highest alcohol-related hospital admission rate nationally and more than half of people receiving specialist treatment for alcohol problems are registered as long term sick at the point of treatment.
That’s compared to 20 per cent nationally.
Earlier this year The Gazette did an expose on shops selling alcohol on Central Drive, Blackpool, where super strong cider was being sold cheaper than a bottle of water.
In some shops we were able to buy 500ml cans of Omega – a 7.5 per cent strength white cider – for just 89p, with bottled water on sale either at the same price or more expensive.
At the same time, Blackpool’s director of public health Arif Rajpura wrote to the Prime Minister urging a crackdown on strong, cheap booze by introducing a minimum price for alcohol.
Dr Rajpura said today: “This is something I am trying to tackle in Blackpool.
“Minimum unit pricing is an absolute no-brainer and something that needs to be done to stop people consuming this really cheap alcohol. In the absence of the government taking these measures, we are working with Blackpool Council to introduce by-laws for minimum unit pricing.”
Dr Rajpura said the council would continue its test purchasing programme to stop off licences selling to under-age drinkers.
“There are 1,900 licensed premises in Blackpool, which is roughly one for every 72 residents.
Figures show 105,000 working days a year are lost in Blackpool because of alcohol misuse, which costs more than £10.5m. That’s £618 per resident a year.
In the town, 15 per cent of all recorded crime takes place in the night-time economy, and on a peak Saturday night more than 80 per cent of visits to the Emergency Department at Blackpool Victoria Hospital are drink-related.
Dr Rajpura said more should also be done nationally to curb the amount of advertising for alcohol products at times when children and young people are likely to be watching television.
Already, work is being done in the town to raise awareness of the harm caused by excess drinking and programmes have been set up both in the community and at hospital to help people who need help to curb their drinking.
Blackpool has the fourth highest number of opiate and crack cocaine users in the country.
In 2012-2013, just under 2,000 people were using opiate and crack, which is more than two and a half times the national average.
At the same time there were just under 1,000 injection drug users, which is four times the national average.
But there was a decline in the number of young people accessing treatment from the previous year.
Most people were referred to specialist treatment from the youth justice system, though referrals were also made from educa tion services, children and family services and mental health services, as well as people self-referring.
Nearly all people – 98 per cent – in treatment for drug abuse started using their main drug before the age of 15, and 40 per cent have been involved in offending. More than half the people in treatment have children who live with them.
Already, work is being done in Blackpool to highlight the health and social impact of drugs in schools, and a number of initiatives are ongoing to keep drug users safe, including a needle exchange and recovery programmes.
‘Food companies need to be more responsible’
Steve Brown is the co-ordinator at MEND – a free programme offered to children across the Fylde Coast by Y-Active and funded by Lancashire County Council.
He said food companies, particularly those which make cereals, needed to be more responsible with how they marketed their product.
“The brighter packages are usually high in sugar,” he said.
“We ask parents to look at their children’s behaviour after eating a sugary breakfast and they do see the peaks in energy while the sugar is in their system followed by a lethargy as it leaves it. This has an impact on their learning at school – it’s a vicious cycle.”
MEND aims to help children and their parents make informed decisions about the food they are eating while encouraging more physical activity.
Mr Brown said the latest figures from the Public Health Annual Report weren’t a surprise.
He added: “From my experience, it’s about right.
“I think the problem is that with children and adults who are overweight we now perceive as normal.
“I think people would be shocked at the statistics showing the level of obesity, but for me this news seems about right.
“I think things are heading in the right direction to improve this, but the problem we have at the moment is that the health issues associated with obesity in children won’t manifest themselves for a number of years.
“Parents of obese children won’t think there is a problem right now, but there will be one further down the line.”
nMEND places are available in September. email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Marsh is a health trainer at Blackpool Wellness Service, which aims to improve the diet and health of people aged over 16 in the town.
The service aims to help people make better choices in their diets and offers a Cooking for Health programme which teaches people how to make healthy meals.
Mr Marsh said: “The hope is that when we are teaching parents to be more healthy, by eating well and increasing their physical activities, their children will follow suit. They look up to their parents and follow the example they set.”
The services tries to encourage parents away from buying takeaways for their children when healthy alternatives can be made in the home.
Mr Marsh added: “Getting a takeaway costs more than cooking at home – take a pizza for example. You can make more than one with fresh ingredients for less than £5.”
Around one in three adults aged over 18 in Blackpool smoke and approximately 37,000 people registered with Blackpool GPs are living with long-term conditions associated with smoking.
These include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and COPD.
Respiratory diseases are one of the top causes of death in Blackpool, which has the highest death rate in the country for respiratory disease in people aged under 75.
Stop smoking support is available across Blackpool, and lung health checks are given to residents to help them realise the damage smoking causes.
Blackpool Vic is one of the few hospitals in the country to have achieved smoke-free status.
More work is planned for the future to promote smoke-free homes and cars and the Public Health team is preparing to lobby the government for standardised packaging on cigarettes.