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Top health adviser visits South Tees

One of the government's top scientific advisors visited representatives from Public Health South Tees to understand the public health challenges in Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland and how research can help address them, including promoting healthier diets and supporting troubled families.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care and lead of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) - the nation's largest funder of health and social care research - met with members of the Public Health South Tees team, which covers Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland.

He also met with local NIHR-funded researchers and teams running projects improving health and well-being and supporting the welfare of those living in the area.  

He was given a tour of the Live Well Centre in Middlesbrough, which offers a wide range of support to people in Middlesbrough who want to lead healthier and happier lives.

There are multiple services housed in the centre, including stop smoking services, GPs, a gym, and services aimed at helping people to access benefits.

At the Centre, Professor Whitty heard about the Healthy Takeaway Masterclasses, an intervention developed as part of the NIHR-funded Foodscape study, which is testing methods for promoting healthier takeaway food. The study was carried out by researchers from Public Health South Tees and Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health      

During the Masterclasses, takeaway owners and staff in Redcar & Cleveland are provided with a range of nutritional improvement opportunities and asked to pledge to provide at least one healthier food option.

Since taking part in the Masterclass sessions, many takeaway outlets have reporting achieving their pledged target with the most popular changes requiring minimal effort and cost, e.g. reducing sugar or salt, or using semi-skimmed instead of whole milk.

Professor Whitty also spent time in Redcar & Cleveland where he heard about The Transformation Challenge which helps troubled families in some of South Tees' most deprived areas.

The team matches families and individuals with a key worker, whose role is to provide intensive support, liaising with specialist services to help effect and sustain positive changes in their lives.

He met with the team who run the Transformation Challenge, the key workers and two individuals who have turned their lives around thanks to the project.

Speaking about his visit, Professor Whitty said: "Research on a public health issue can take place in many settings but is at its best when the research focuses on an area where that public health issue is common and researchers work with the local public health teams.

"Collaborations between South Tees Council and NIHR-funded researchers, such as the Healthy Takeaway Masterclasses, are an excellent example of research responding to the local need in Middlesbrough."

Edward Kunonga, Joint Director of Public Health for Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland, said: "We were delighted to have Professor Whitty spending a day with us. We had the opportunity to share with him some of the excellent programmes and services we have in this area as well as some of the challenges for our local population.

"We discussed the important role research plays in ensuring we continue to deliver the best and most effective services for our population.

"We look forward continuing to engage with Department of Health and Social Care as well as the NIHR to ensure local research has a positive impact on our local population."

Dr Amelia Lake, who leads the Foodscape study, said: "Our Masterclasses with South Tees provided food outlets with the skills to help them make small changes which could make the food they serve healthier.

"Making our food environment a healthier one requires us all to work together that includes local food businesses as well as health and policy professionals."

Pictured: Edward Kunonga, Joint Director of Public Health for Middlesbrough & Redcar and Cleveland, welcomes Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care and lead of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), to the Live Well Centre in Middlesbrough