‘Stay active, stay healthy, and live longer’ was the message from NI Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Michael McBride as he launched his annual report.
Dr McBride said that while there have been welcome improvements in the health of the public in Northern Ireland; there are still significant challenges to overcome.
Lifestyle choices continue to impact our health and add to already significant pressures on our health service. There has been a continued improvement in the health of the public in Northern Ireland and we can see this in the steady increase in life expectancy and a reduction in the death rates for heart disease and a number of cancers in those under 75.
However, a number of lifestyle factors continue to have a negative effect on our health and Dr McBride is concerned about the impact that this will have on future generations. Obesity is undoubtedly the most significant public health issue confronting our generation. Levels continue to increase and this in turn is contributing to the increase in people with diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There are now over 75,000 people with diabetes – almost twice as many as 10 years ago. We need to support people in making healthy choices and ensure that taking a healthy approach begins as early in life as possible.
A quarter of adults continue to smoke in spite of concerted campaigns, new legislation and comprehensive smoking cessation services.
Excessive and irresponsible alcohol consumption especially in young people is also threatening to unravel a generation of good work in public health and put further pressure on our health services. Dr McBride believes there is a need to continue to engage in the debate about measures such as minimum pricing of alcohol and further restrictions on smoking such as in private vehicles with children present.
The 2012/13 Health Survey Northern Ireland found that just over half of adults in Northern Ireland meet the recommended levels of physical activity. The Department and the Public Health Agency (PHA) are currently working with a number of partners to increase physical activity. For example, the Active Schools Travel Programme, funded by the PHA and the Department for Regional Development (DRD), encourages pupils to walk or cycle as their main mode of transport to and from school. A programme of cycling and walking skills will be delivered through the organisation, Sustrans (Sustainable Transport) to 180 schools across Northern Ireland over the next three years.
Dr McBride said: “I welcome the contribution of organisations such as Sustrans, who campaign to deliver improvements for walking and cycling in Northern Ireland and work hard to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles among schoolchildren.
“Living a sedentary lifestyle can potentially contribute to increased risk of long-term health problems. Active travel is an easy way for people to build physical activity into their daily life, for example walking or cycling instead of taking the car. I would encourage everyone to try to increase the amount of physical activity they take, as it can bring many health benefits.”
Welcoming the report, Health Minister Edwin Poots said; “I welcome the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report and it’s encouraging to note improvements in the health of the people of Northern Ireland. However, while there have been big improvements in health and life expectancy over the last decade, Northern Ireland still faces challenges to improve public health and ensure that, as a society, we benefit from longer and healthier lives.
“We must all take greater responsibility for our own health and simple steps like watching what we eat, taking regular exercise and cutting down or stopping smoking and drinking alcohol can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing conditions which place a considerable burden on our healthcare system.”
Beth Harding, Sustrans' Schools Officer also welcomed the report saying: "Cycling, walking and scooting to school is an excellent way for children to get their recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. The number of students regularly cycling to school at the Belfast schools engaged with Sustrans last year increased from 13% to 33%. Schools from across Northern Ireland now have the opportunity to join the Active School Travel Programme, which is successfully working to increase the number of young people choosing active, healthy journeys to school - helping those young people form healthy habits for a lifetime."
The CMO’s annual report also highlights a number of other significant health issues:
• Home accidents
• improving mental health;
• preventing suicide;
• resuscitation strategy for Northern Ireland;
• Planning for emergencies
• diabetes care;
• sexual health promotion;
• vaccination programme.
• Quality and safety in health and social Care services