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Practice 'trim trail' to tackle obesity

A trail built in memory of a late GP is proving popular with the people of Stowmarket, says Dr Louise Skioldebrand.

My practice in the small Suffolk town of Stowmarket has succeeded in getting a trim trail built for the local community.

The trail is in memory of our late partner Dr Ian Jenkins and I successfully lobbied the local council to find funding for it.

We hit on the idea partly because of Ian who, in spite of having a heart transplant 10 years before he died, worked full-time and whose interests included keeping fit and playing golf.

The other main reason was our concern over obesity. Our large practice had been a pilot for the 'slimming on referral' scheme. Via the PCT, this provides free Slimming World vouchers for a 10-week course.

Personal trainer
In the practice itself, we had temporarily employed an artist-in-residence focussing on healthy hearts and exercise.

We also recruited a personal trainer, Jez Cooksley, to take responsibility for equipping and running a gym for private users in our health centre building.

So adding the trim trail to enthuse the local population about taking exercise seemed a good thing. The recreation ground or the school playing fields behind our building were perfect locations for the trail.

I approached Stowmarket Town Council to explore the feasibility of the idea and found that it was enthusiastic. It preferred the playing fields, which are close to the high school and the leisure centre.

Most of the £18,000 funding came from Mid-Suffolk District Council with some contribution from the local strategic partnership (of public, private, community and voluntary sectors).

I attended a few brief meetings and the town forum manager agreed to lead the project. We carried out some research on the internet for equipment and costs, and quickly found companies that installed trim trails all over the country.

Presenting the case
This information included photographs of a couple of nearby trails showing the visual, spatial and safety aspects.

To qualify for the district council funds, we had to present our case. My practice provided some basic data including our patient list BMI and diabetes statistics, and the number of Slimming World referrals. There were also letters of support from local sports clubs, personal trainers and school PE teachers.

Luckily the national and local media had already highlighted the problem of obesity thoroughly.

Plans for more trails
Stowmarket Town Council actually regarded the fitness trail as a pilot site with potential to build one or two more trails at the other end of town, if this one was well received.

Fenland Leisure Products erected 10 sets of apparatus, which are wooden and quite attractive, and which come with clear signage to explain how to use them. The apparatus includes a five-bar gate to climb over and posts sunk into the ground for leapfrogging.

Jez plans to create a video to run on his and our websites (www.stowhealth.com) to show how to use the apparatus. We will also be able to show it on the plasma screen in our waiting room to promote use of the trail.

The initial response to the trim trail is encouraging.

Many patients see it as something different to try in their quest to get fitter.

And publicity about its opening has helped encourage use. The GPs at the health centre are adding it to their armoury, suggesting to people that they tackle the trail every day as well as walking to work.

Dr Skioldebrand is a GP in Suffolk, louiseskiol@aol.com.

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