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Dance classes to tackle obesity

Dr Louise Skioldebrand hosts a dance project to prevent and combat obesity in young people.

Get Movin’: weekly classes similar to the one above encourage participants to become more physically active and learn more about adopting healthy lifestyles (Photograph:dance east)
Get Movin’: weekly classes similar to the one above encourage participants to become more physically active and learn more about adopting healthy lifestyles (Photograph:dance east)

StowHealth is an large, NHS general practice in Stowmarket, Suffolk that adds value through delivering innovative projects such as regular art exhibitions, personal training in the building's gym, a private complementary therapy team, and University of East Anglia medical student training.

In my role as GP partner in charge of our art gallery, I was approached by DanceEast to see if it could use the conference room and other facilities to host a project, Get Movin', funded by Suffolk Strategic Partnership.

  • Free dance classes for 9-18 year olds in two separate, weekly classes, for two terms.
  • Fortnightly workshops adding value with nutrition advice, alternative fitness methods, complementary therapy and practice nurse support.
  • Self referral, but signposting from local practices, schools and media coverage. Participation has grown in younger age group class, but been slower in older age group (13-18).
  • Funded through a Suffolk Strategic Partnership initiative

Fitness and fun
Based in the east of England, DanceEast is one of England's leading dance organisations, which aims to bring opportunities to dance to everyone across East Anglia and to promote dance as a pastime for fun and fitness.

Its funding comes from the Suffolk Strategic Partnership, which brings together key stakeholders and agencies in the county to co-ordinate their work on behalf of the people of Suffolk.

All the partners play an active part in developing working relationships for the benefit of the community and ensuring a focus on improving the quality of life and governance in a particular locality.

StowHealth has enabled the project by promoting it to our patient list of over 16,000 people. We feel that dancing is increasingly popular, especially with various television shows promoting the activity, and that dance classes may be attractive to less sport-driven youngsters.

We have introduced Jez Cooksley, the personal trainer who runs our gym, and one of our complementary health practitioners to the programme.

One of our practice nurses, Chris Francis, who has an interest in obesity, is also attending fortnightly sessions to liaise with youngsters and their parents, perform BMI measurements and offer ongoing support.

Increasing activity levels
The aim of the project is to increase physical activity for young people aged 9-18 years outside of school hours, and to increase awareness of and participation in creative dance and its benefits, for example self confidence, creativity, team work and physical well-being.

The project is focusing on preventive measures to lead to healthier lifestyles, as well as solutions to obesity in young people.

Get Movin' with DanceEast is free to participants with a maximum number of 20 places available to each of two age groups, 9-13 years and 13-18 years.

The take up of places was slow to start, despite press releases, local flyers, and letters sent to schools, school nurses, school sports coordinators and GPs.

However, word of mouth has seen the younger class grow to 15 members, with slightly fewer in the older age group.

As a GP, it is always difficult to raise the subject of an overweight child with a parent. By not having strict BMI entry criteria this has been an easier programme to 'sell' to a parent.

Lifestyle advice
The programme offers a variety of fun sessions and workshops with the aim of increasing fitness levels, promoting healthier lifestyles, teaching new skills and boosting self-esteem.

Weekly dance sessions - where no experience is required - are being combined with workshops on nutrition advice, tasting sessions, art therapy, relaxation and alternative fitness methods.

Supporters of this initiative include Ipswich Town Football Club Community Trust, which will be giving sports taster sessions, and a local juice bar, which will be promoting the benefits of five-a-day with its smoothie-making session.

After the two-term programme, participants will be encouraged to attend DanceEast classes that already take place locally. These follow-on classes will be subsidised by DanceEast to ensure cost is not a barrier.

Our practice nurse will also be providing a monthly follow-up session for four months so that participants and their families can receive advice and support and be encouraged to maintain a healthy way of living.

  • Dr Skioldebrand is a GP in Suffolk


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