Littlehampton's River ward "most unhealthy place in south-east"
On average, people die younger than anywhere else in the region, at the age of just 70.8 years, according to a new report, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing for Everyone in West Sussex.
Published by West Sussex Primary Care Trust (PCT), the report highlights "unacceptable" health inequalities across the county. It says River ward's low life expectancy is due to a range of factors including general deprivation, unhealthy lifestyles, poor attendance and performance at schools, and binge-drinking and heavy smoking among young people.
Reducing the 13-year gap between life expectancy in River ward '” covering the town centre and most of the seafront area '” and in Bramber, where people live longer than anywhere else in West Sussex, to the age of 83, is one of the main goals of the report, a draft five-year strategy to boost health and healthcare in the county.
It adds that greater effort will be focused on reducing alcohol, smoking and obesity rates in and around Littlehampton to ensure that people have the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives.
River ward's two Arun councillors, Ian Buckland and Mark Butler, both expressed surprise on hearing their area had the lowest life expectancy in the whole south-east, and called on people to make changes in their lifestyle to improve their health.
Mr Butler said: "There is something fundamentally wrong when, after all the initiatives by the councils, the health service and other agencies we have had here over the past decade and more, we now hear this is the unhealthiest place in the south-east. I find that horrifying.
"So many messages and warnings have been put across to people by so many different agencies to say that choosing an unhealthy lifestyle is going to be detrimental. What more can we do and say to get those messages across?
"If people choose not to embrace a healthier lifestyle, then these figures are never going to change.
"It does make you question why we are putting all this time, money and resources into trying to improve people's lives, but it seems to be getting ignored. It's heartbreaking, quite frankly.
"The responsibility has to be with the individual at the end of the day, and not filling themselves with poisons and unhealthy food, then expecting agencies to pick up the pieces."
No magic wand
Mr Buckland said he had been under the impression that health was improving in the area, so the findings came as a surprise.
"Obviously there is still a lot of work to do. As a councillor, I'm trying to raise the profile of cycling and encourage healthy eating and a better lifestyle, but we can't wave the magic wand.
"If you go into most schools now, they are encouraging healthy eating and lifestyles, and children are taking it in, but the problem unfortunately lies with parents who still buy unhealthy food."
Elsewhere in the report, the PCT says it will increase screening for bowel, breast and cervical cancer in deprived areas such as Arun and Adur.
Building of the new 12m hospital at Littlehampton will also provide much-needed improved health facilities.
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