West Berkshire Council

Public Health Blog

News and updates from West Berkshire Council's Public Health Team

Keeping you updated on health and wellbeing issues in West Berkshire, plus health improvement services and campaigns across the council and district. 

Our Public Health and Wellbeing Team is committed to reducing local health inequalities and supporting vulnerable groups. You can contact us or visit our Public Health page for more information.



Image for Public Health blog

How much have you moved today?

Written on: 3-8-2017

Randy Glasbergen cartoon – doctor talking to a patient about exercise

Fitting some physical activity into your day is easier than you think. To stay healthy or to improve health, you need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and strength exercises.

Around one in two women and a third of men in England are damaging their health through a lack of physical activity. 24% of adults in West Berkshire do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week, so are classified as 'inactive'.

Being active is really good for your body, mind and health; it can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

It's free, easy to take, has an immediate effect and there are lots of easy ways you and your family can get moving in West Berkshire including a free beginners running programme called Run Together West Berkshire, visit Running in West Berkshire (RunTogether) for more information and to view the timetable.

Our runners have a great deal of fun, making new friends and getting to know the local area. The beginners' running sessions are not only an ideal way to improve fitness, they are a great opportunity to meet new people and enjoy the outdoors. The weekly sessions are fun, friendly and free of charge. 90% of our runners surveyed strongly agreed that run together has helped them achieve their health and wellbeing goals.

Brisk walking can also benefit your health in so many different ways. Did you know that walking briskly for just 10 continuous minutes counts as exercise? It's easier than you think to fit into your day!

West Berkshire Walking for Health offer regular, led walks for people of all abilities. The walks are friendly and welcoming, they are a great opportunity to explore the outdoors, discover new places and meet new people. Specially trained volunteers lead the way and make sure no one gets left behind.

It's easy to start walking. Walking for Health walks are free and easy, ranging from 30 to 90 minutes, so they can easily be fitted in as part of your everyday routine. Some stop for coffee afterwards, a good opportunity to socialise and relax after the walk.

Find out about other opportunities near you for physical activity.

Alcohol: what's your score?

Written on: 26-5-2017

Image of alcohol bottles on supermarket shelves

I've just been to my local convenience shop and seen a beautiful display of bottles of wine and spirits, not to mention the beer. It reminded me to get this post published.

Three questions:

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

Never - 0 points

Monthly or less - 1 point

2 to 4 times per month - 2 points

2 to 3 times per week - 3 points

4 or more times per week - 4 points

2. How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

0 to 2 units - 0 points

3 to 4 units - 1 point

5 to 6 units - 2 points

7 to 9 units - 3 points

10 or more units - 4 points

3. How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

Never - 0 points 

Less than monthly - 1 point

Monthly - 2 points 

Weekly - 3 points

What's your total score?

0 to 4 - Congratulations! You are within the low risk guidelines.

5 to 10 - Try making a few changes so you don't put your health at risk.

11 - consider speaking to your GP, get in touch with Swanswell Alcohol Recovery Service or call Drink Line on 0300 1231110

If you scored 5 or more, check out this alcohol self-assessment from Drinkaware.

More than 9 million people in England drink more than the low risk guidelines and alcohol related harm costs England around £21bn per year:

  • £3.5bn to the NHS
  • £11bn tackling alcohol-related crime
  • £7.3bn from lost work days and productivity costs (PHE, 2015)

The risks of excessive alcohol consumption

Your Liver

Alcohol is the leading risk factor for preventable deaths in 15 to 49 year olds (PHE, 2014). In 2014/15 in West Berkshire there were 95 people admitted to hospital with chronic liver disease. This number has increased every year from 2011. Alcohol misuse also significantly contributes to some cancers, high blood pressure and stroke. Both men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week and have 2 or 3 alcohol free days per week. For women who are pregnant or wish to be pregnant, no alcohol is the safest approach.

Your Lover

If you drink to excess, your loved ones may suffer. Domestic abuse is linked to excessive alcohol use in 25 to 50% of cases. In 333 domestic abuse crimes in West Berkshire between 2016 and 2017 children were present.

Your Livelihood

The negative impact of alcohol misuse affects productivity owing to sickness-related absence, inappropriate behaviour, accidents and poor performance. The Department of Work and Pensions reported 1 in 15 working age benefit claimants are 'suffering from alcohol dependency', around 170,000 people nationally.

The Law

Being over the limit lasts for several hours, so driving to work the following morning you may still be over the legal limit. In West Berkshire the rate of alcohol related traffic accidents is 32 per 100,000 compared with the national average of 26.4 per 100,000.

UK crime statistics show in about half of all violent incidents, the victim believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol.

Our pubs make and restaurants make a valuable contribution to the local economy and people should enjoy them without fear of being a victim of crime. Happily, Newbury has a Purple Flag award as a safe place to enjoy an evening out.

Here are some quick tips for reducing alcohol related harm:

  • Have drink free days every week
  • Keep a track of how much you drink
  • Avoid drinking in rounds or large groups but if you do set, yourself a limit
  • If you're bored or stressed - do something active instead of drinking

West Berkshire's Alcohol Harm Reduction Partnership is working to reduce the negative impact of alcohol across West Berkshire.

Our relationship with alcohol is a very personal one. Is your relationship with alcohol a healthy one? If not, there is plenty of support available.

For more information on how to cut down your drinking:

Warning Signs!

Written on: 20-4-2017

Red Warning Triangle with and Exclamation mark

This is a cautionary tale to evidence what happens if we don't listen to what our bodies are telling us.

I, (Miss A), just had my first cortisone injection to help ease my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and currently my hand and wrist feel worse than before, oh dear!

As anyone would do when they encounter an ache, pain, physical or mental problem, I have wondered what brought on my condition. Looking back, I seem to remember warning signs when doing repetitive manual work, but I carried on with it because I felt strong and healthy and I was completing projects, looking at the long-term goals, and jolly pleased with myself overall. I was forging ahead, I completed my sanding and painting projects driven by my ambition and ego which resulted in me damaging myself. Well, I can't be sure what caused my carpal tunnel, but I'm pretty sure I had a hand in it, ha ha ! And now I reflect - not for the first time - that I actually know my body and what it needs.

So why ignore what I know and abuse my priceless assets? It's true, some people do defy the evidence, they use and abuse themselves and come up gloating about how they've stayed healthy.

Any problem could have a hereditary cause, couldn't it? I've read this and I've heard this about many conditions, but on closer inspection, I believe this can be a very misleading proposition ie not a reason to dismiss what you can do to help yourself.

Could a problem be 'an inevitable part of ageing'? No, I'd say this is a very moot point.

I would also say, there's always an upside to every situation: whilst wearing splints, a number of people approached me telling me their tales of hurty wrists, hurty hands. How interesting, I thought, I'm now in a friendly, supportive club. And not only that, I'm better off than they are, going by their stories; not the right attitude! But talking to others about the condition has helped me frame what's going on and got me thinking about where to go from here. And then there was that nice orthopaedic lady I saw at the hospital, I don't mind seeing her again in 6 weeks. Thank goodness the NHS is there to patch us up.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), is a term usually related to the hands, and I remember it being a 'fashionable' condition in the '90s when people talked about it and people could be off sick from work for protracted periods. RSI was breaking out all over but I was lucky, I didn't get it then. But now it's out of the headlines, it's like it's no longer important.

RSI - any of us could get it - is could be a metaphor for misusing our bodies in general through what we do to them and in this blog I'm referring to all repetitive strain on the body in the widest sense through all the things we put them through.

Now that I have the particular problem I mentioned, I'm doing damage limitation by looking after myself and not over-using my hands. It's like the previous blog. You've got a tooth filling, what do you need to try to prevent yourself getting another, because you will you know if you carry on doing the same thing! If I try wagging a finger at myself, it really hurts!

We have to exercise our intelligence with the potential perils that surround us in life. Looking after ourselves is the perfect motivation to demonstrate our intelligence, perspicacity, astuteness, innate sense. Warning signs are so important to us, no matter who we are or how old we are. I'd say, start by listening to what your mind and body is telling you and go easy on yourself.

Many aches/pains/problems develop over time so you have warning signs, intervene early by contacting your GP surgery, talking to your friendly Public Health Service, reading NHS Choices websites, talking to your friends and family. Ask your workplace to introduce health and wellbeing talks from experts (you can ask Public Health about this), insist on a workstation health and safety assessment, review your lifestyle, posture, hobbies and general stress levels. Weigh the range of evidence and exercise your own Preventative Powers!

In the case of Repetitive Strain Injuries otherwise known as Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD), employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI and make sure that the symptoms of anyone who already has the condition do not get worse. Therefore employers should carry out a risk-assessment or desk-assessment when you join a work place - or you may do an online self-assessment and then report to HR any issues raised - to ensure the risk of accident and injury is as low as possible. Contact your HR if you have any queries about this matter.

For desk workers:

  • make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so that they cause the least amount of strain to your fingers, hands, wrists, neck and back; if you experience any strain act immediately!

  • Adjust your chair so that your forearms are horizontal with the desk and your eyes are the same height as the top of your computer screen

  • Take regular small breaks away from your work station, eg to get a drink, stretch your legs, speak to a colleague





Cake Culture in the Workplace

Written on: 14-3-2017

Cake culture has been in the news : Dentists call to end 'workplace cake culture'

This rang a bell with me, did it with you? There are certainly cakes and biscuits frequently to hand and easy to find in my workplace and we are not doing anything substantial to limit this access for the sake of our wellbeing and health. We don't want to be impolite to our colleagues for palming off their baked experiments or just being friendly and inclusive by bringing treats in to share. No certainly not, it can be really important to share experiences with our colleagues to help teams work well together and cake has become a device for doing this in our work culture. But, because of the health risks around overdoing the sugar consumption, we need to think about how we can make this valuable aspect of our working lives perhaps more virtuous and ultimately more special.

So to make the treats at work more special and celebratory and therefore reduce our sugar consumption we could limit cakes, biscuits and sweets that we share in the office to once a week, and alternate with savoury treats. Or perhaps we could make every other month a sugar treat free month, replaced with fruit. How about we eat our treats in a mindful way, taking a few moments to savour what we are eating together with our work mates, and bring our focus to the action and our bodily sensations and feelings, think about what we are doing and where are thoughts are, rather than stuffing our faces! When we think we need a cake fix at work  - which often seem to occur when we are sedentary - sublimate that with a walk to get a glass of water, go to speak to a colleague, stand up while speaking on the phone, find other work things to do that do not require constant sitting.  We should also plan to have a healthy meal during our work shift so we don't swap if for a sugar fix.

Some employers, including Google, have already taken action to change the work culture by supporting their staff to make healthier choices and reduce their sugar intake while at work. Actions being taken include limiting the sale of sugary drinks on the premises, substituting biscuits for fruit and plain nuts in meetings, providing alternatives in the tuck box, workplace health initiatives by bringing in experts to discuss health topics, and signposting staff to Government and Public Health advice about health and wellbeing such as  health and fitness and eight tips for healthy eating

There is a continuing rise in the UK in people being overweight and obese, the cake culture is one contributory factor. This has many unfortunate consequences not least of which can be Type 2 diabetes which can lead to further complications. And of course cakes, sweets and biscuits are very harmful to our teeth the more we eat and this harm can be irreversible. We need to be very mindful about sugar and how easy it is to over consume it.   Try the useful Be Food Smart app to find out what's in your food :

The Faculty of Dental Surgery has produced 5 Top Tips for reducing sugar consumption at work:

  1. Consider low sugar alternatives. Check out these Sugar Swaps.
  2. Reduce portion sizes.
  3. Avoid snacking and keep sugar as a lunchtime treat.
  4. Develop a sugar schedule to help limit your team's sugar intake. 
  5. Location, location, location - think carefully about where cake and sugar is positioned.

Let's shake up work culture across the country - it can't be that difficult really can it? Let's not only focus on reducing sugar but take the opportunity to welcome healthy work environments and as a result improve productivity.  If you have some positive tips to share on this topic, please contact Public Health and Wellbeing.

You can see the full Position Statement from which this article is derived.  

Take Part in Dry January 2017!

Written on: 30-12-2016

2017 - Dry January Buddy up and beat the booze graphic

The Alcohol Harm Reduction Partnership is a newly established partnership which exists to reduce alcohol related harm in West Berkshire. It's a multi-agency partnership that, as a subgroup of the Health and Wellbeing Board will coordinate the development of an alcohol strategy and detailed action plan to address the priority of reducing alcohol related harm in the district.

Dry January is a national campaign championed by Alcohol Concern and Public Health England which asks people to consider giving up alcohol for the month of January.

Alcohol is one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. Deaths from liver disease have reached record levels, rising by 20 per cent in a decade. Research has shown that cutting out alcohol for a month can make significant health and behavioural differences.

Graham Jones, West Berkshire's Executive Member for Public Health and Wellbeing said, "Cutting out alcohol for a month can help people re-evaluate their drinking habits long term. It can be tough to break habits though so this year's Dry January campaign is suggesting that groups of friends take part together and give each other the valuable support needed to make the change.  New research has shown Dry January to be an effective route to changing behaviour with  65 per cent of participants making a positive change to their drinking habits by drinking less, or cutting alcohol out completely. In addition, people cutting out booze for 31 days enjoy the benefits of sleeping better, gaining more energy and clearer skin plus saving cash. That's a great return for a month long investment and working together with friends and family is a great way to make this happen."

Sign up at www.dryjanuary.org.uk to get extra support in the form of regular emails with tips, help and advice, and people can share their experience and ideas via social media.

The Dry January website  has lots of ideas and suggestions to help people through the month, such as delicious mocktail recipes. They can also see just how much calories and cash they are saving by using the calculator.

People don't need to fundraise to take part in Dry January, although they are welcome to raise sponsorship money to help Alcohol Concern.

For more information email info@dryjanuary.org.uk, call 020 7566 9800 or visit the Dry January website.

Further information

Anyone who is worried about their drinking habits can get support and advice from their local GP surgery or contact Swanswell Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.

Swanswell provide information on staying safe on a night out and drinking safely to reduce risks.

Who To Contact

Contact details for West Berkshire's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

01635 519973