Obesity is a growing problem across the country. We’re all familiar with the worrying statistics on diabetes, heart attacks and other related ailments and the effect on health and life expectancy.
This problem also has a financial and operational impact on the public sector health organisations. Hospitals are now building operating theatre facilities to cope with the increased average weight of patients and ambulance trusts across the country have had to take similar measures for patient transportation. (Here’s a BBC news article that covered the impact on our emergency services).
The result of this problem is a challenge for public sector organisations in terms of increased cost, but also to look at preventative measures to improve health and tackle some of the causes.
In Birmingham, this is a particularly significant issue for the local NHS organisations and the city council, the following statistics make interesting reading:
- 29% of the city population is now obese (the European average is 14%).
- Healthy eating and physical activity levels are significantly below the national average.
- The cost of dealing with this and the resulting ill health, is estimated at £330 million.
- Absence/loss of earnings is estimated at £2.6 billion.
To get to the route of the problem, Birmingham and Solihull NHS have been working with Birmingham city council looked at the number of fast-food outlets, particularly in deprived areas of the city. Surprisingly they found nearly four times the number of hot food takeaways than in the more affluent locations.
Next, using several geographic data products including Ordnance Survey Street View and Boundary-Line, researchers plotted the location of schools, youth and leisure facilities. The ability to visually present both these sets of data in a layered digital map allowed them to analyse the nature of the problem. Councillors, planners and public health officials were able to quickly see the results when the data was presented in a visual format using a map background.
A disturbing trend was emerging on the digital map – 71% of primary and secondary schools had a hot-food takeaway within 400m.
“…the city has a large number of hot-food takeaways close to schools and local centres. The use of maps helps us to accurately describe where they are located and to tackle their spread.”
Dr Iris Fermin, Head of Public Health Information and Intelligence, Birmingham Public Health
As a result of the geographic analysis, new rules were agreed to control the numbers of unhealthy food outlets clustered around schools, several planning applications have been refused under these new procedures. It is hoped that these measures and the ability to carry out this kind of analysis will have a positive impact on the future health of the city’s population, particular the younger generation during their formative years.
To make this possible, the public health team in Birmingham have taken full advantage of the Public Sector mapping agreement (PSMA) allowing them access to highly accurate digital map products from Ordnance Survey to analyse their problem. To see more examples of where PSMA membership has brought similar success, please visit our case-study map.