COUNCILS are being urged to build pathways away from hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, but not the physical kind.
Urban planning and health experts are building evidence which says local government can play a more effective role in tackling inactivity in the community.
A workshop in Tamworth on Tuesday brought together researchers and local government leaders to nut out solutions at a “critical time” with recent figures showing more than seven-in-10 adults in Tamworth do little or no exercise.
“If the infrastructure isn’t there in the first place, people have no chance,” Urban planning researcher Jennifer Kent said.
Things councils generally do are linked to supporting people’s health, Dr Kent says.
“Stuff like providing footpaths, providing bike paths, providing shade, access to healthy food and areas where people can be connected to community,” she said.
Dr Kent was impressed with Tamworth’s CBD, but said there was some catching up to be done in outer suburbs “where there’s opportunities missed for people to be walking into town or walking to school”.
“The infrastructure is just not there,” she said.
Dr Kent said councils could also play a part in improving mental health in communities with its built environments.
“One of the big risk factors for mental health is a sense of social isolation,” she said.
“Drawing people out-and-about into their communities is very important and councils are very strong in trying to do that by providing spaces for people to go to.”
General manager Paul Bennett said council would need to be brave and step-up its game in promoting healthy choices.
“It’s a difficult conversation because you’re taking local community resources into a new activity around promoting healthy lifestyles as opposed to just the [built] physical environment,” Mr Bennett said.
Removing unhealthy food from council facilities could be the first step taken in Tamworth.
Deputy mayor Helen Tickle was at the workshop and hit out at the idea facilities “can’t make money” from healthy foods and said it was a “feeble excuse” which shouldn’t be fed to the community.
“It’s absolutely something we could and should do as a council,” Mr Bennett said.
“We’ve got to be brave enough to say, we’re not going to provide those unhealthy choices anymore.
“If you come in here, it’s going to be for your health and well-being. so to carry that whole theme through, it’s only to provide healthy choices.”
Tamworth GP John Pearson said good health was always popular, but changes could face opposition and chronic diseases were becoming “more and more prolific” in the region.
“[Look at] the main street; free parking, around the corner, you pay for it” Dr Pearson said.
“In a healthy community, around the corner is free; and in the main street you pay heaps.
“Is that going to be popular? No. But is good health popular? Yes.”
The Barton Lane GP is in the Tamworth Cardiovascular Working Group.
“It’s aim is to take Tamworth off the top of the list for worst outcomes for heart disease in this state,” he said.