Residents of Wokingham, Berkshire, will have been basking in the limelight this weekend as the area was named the healthiest place to live in England.
The Berkshire town received an overall health score of 110 from the Office for National Statistics and financial services company Lane Clark & Peacock, putting it at the top of the list, just ahead of Richmond-upon-Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead.
The scores were accounted for by combining different health factors in every area of England including obesity, alcohol consumption, dementia and cancer and is believed to be the first ever comprehensive health index in the world. Government ministers asked for the study to analyse the effect of health policies in England and researchers said the findings were intriguing as some areas had very healthy scores for certain aspects of life but not others.
For instance Newham in east London was rated as having some of the worst rates for physical activity and healthy eating yet also had the lowest rates of depression and dementia in the whole of England.
And while east Yorkshire received bad scores for heart conditions, cancer and high blood pressure, it got very high scores for life satisfaction.
Dr Jonathan Person-Stuttard, head of health analytics at LCP, who completed the study with former chief medical officer professor Dame Sally Davies, said the index of 149 local authority areas should be viewed as ‘an asset to the nation’.
He told the Sunday Times “The numbers reveal clear and substantial differences across England and should be a wake-up call to the government to deliver on its manifesto pledge to level up regional inequalities.
“While there is some encouragement to be had from slight improvements in measures related to wellbeing and mortality, these have been cancelled out by worsening mental and physical health morbidity.
“These may have deteriorated further as a result of Covid-19.”
Blackpool was listed as the unhealthiest place to live in England with a score of 86.
And the findings also showed a clear north-south divide in England. After Wokingham, Richmond and Windsor, the next seven areas in the top 10 are all southern: West Berkshire, Surrey, Bracknell Forest, Buckinghamshire, Rutland, Kingston upon Thames and Hampshire.
Meanwhile Blackpool was swiftly followed by Hull, Stoke-on-Trent, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Knowsley, Doncaster, Nottingham, St Helens and Salford as the top 10 unhealthiest.
Another worrying study published last week showed that only a third of children in Bradford had enough exercise in the first lockdown – and that a similar number were hardly ever leaving home.
The BBC carried a report on the Born in Bradford research project, which monitored the health of 13,500 children born in the city between 2007 and 2010 and they spoke with Dr John Wright, of Bradford Royal Infirmary, who explained this was a different kind of health crisis and one that began long before the pandemic. However, he added, it risks becoming worse because of coronavirus.
Almost 1,000 children, aged nine to 13, took part in the survey, explaining how much exercise they were getting in lockdown. About two-thirds of the children had taken part in an earlier survey and, of this sub-group, 69% had been getting the recommended daily average of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity before lockdown, but once it began, only 29% – less than half – met that target.
And more alarming still 30% of the nearly 1,000 participants reported that they normally stayed at home, or in their garden during lockdown. But there were significant differences depending on ethnic background: among children of Pakistani heritage the figure was 40%, while among White British children it was 16%.
Now March has arrived, all eyes are not only on children going back to school (March 8) but also March 29, when sports like tennis and golf can be played again.
And one community leader in Bradford, Humayun Islam, says that sport – and tennis specifically – can help families and children get back to normal active lives.
Speaking to the i newspaper, Islam said: “We still don’t know or understand the massive impact [coronavirus] has had on young people, because now it’s going to be even harder to get kids out the home.
“They’re not going to school, they’re getting used to home-schooling and Zoom, and not interacting. We’ve changed that behaviour. It’s become a norm.
“Tennis has to be a gateway for children. We need the parents to understand the importance of it even further now, and say to them ‘look at what impact it’s had on you being at home, in the way you eat and your health. You need to be coming out to play these sports again, to create a bit of normality.’”
Islam was involved in LTA’s Serves programme, a programme that creates ‘pop up’ tennis centres in village halls and mosques with all equipment provided and sessions run by local people.
In lockdown they have had to get creative, delivering LTA equipment to homes to allow kids to play within their families or just hit against a wall.
“Parents have come back and said that their kids have been more active, just hitting against the wall or playing in the garden, and they wouldn’t have invested in the racquet,” Islam told the i.
“We need to try to change perceptions, which is why I’m so passionate about the Serves programme. It can change those opinions and have an impact by having tennis at the forefront in the community. We could potentially have the next Andy Murray coming from the south Asian community if we get more boys and girls playing tennis.
“Tennis is seen as a middle-class game and something in which people from those communities can’t progress, because we don’t have those role models. It’s so important to have role models within tennis from different communities, but unfortunately we don’t have that at the elite level – so we need to create that within the community.”
Of nearly 1,000 people who have been trained as “activators” in the LTA programme, 42 per cent are from a Bame background. And the results are there to see: of 33,000 children who have been involved in the programme over the last five years, half are Bame.
There is a lot of rebuilding work to be done in the wake of coronavirus to get England healthy again – but with schemes like these, there is always hope.
Top 10 healthiest areas
Windsor & Maidenhead