Tackling obesity at grass roots

Fighting fit: The 'Front Row' is on a mission to lose weight and get fit.

A man tackling obesity “head on” by helping a bunch of very overweight dads trim down is keen to make the most of the opportunities that will come out of the new Hawke’s Bay Community Health and Sport Centre.

The focus of the programmes run from the facility being built at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Sports Park will be to bring research-led health programmes to the people of Hawke’s Bay. It is envisaged that 85 per cent of the users will be members of the general public – young and old.

Les Hokianga has been working with his dads’ group for six months. Nicknamed “The Front Row”, they are 25 men who were all over 150kg (average 190kg). They have been working out four times a week.  Les is convinced that the programmes and expertise of the Hawke’s Bay Community Health and Sport Centre will provide, including around nutrition, exercise and behaviour change, will further improve their health and lifestyles.

Obesity, lack of physical activity and poor nutrition have long been known to be a particular problem in Hawke’s Bay. The situation is well documented in health reports; much of it put down to a general lack of activity in our communities.

For some people these common health issues become acute and present major life challenges, not just for the individuals concerned, but also for their families and our community.

Les is determined to be part of the solution to the problem – through working with fathers.

“Dads have a major impact on nutrition, or bad nutrition at least, because they often get the call to pick up takeaways or food for the family on the way home.  I saw this group as a key opportunity to changing family eating habits which had traditionally been very difficult to influence and get access to.

“The Dads impact the whanau hugely – their moko worry about their dads. What I see, is a lot of focus on early childhood, which is great, but at the end of the day, the dads bring the kai home. Fine while the kids are at school, but the challenge is at home between 6-9pm at night”.

Les has seen and identified a range of issues that arise from obesity including isolation when people feel they have no support and the struggles they face trying to carry out simple daily tasks.

Les is supported in his work by Marcus Agnew, who trained Les at EIT.  The two are excited about the possibility of building on this great work through partnering with the Hawke’s Bay Community Health and Sport Centre, led by another community health hero in the Hawke’s Bay, Sir Graeme Avery.

Sir Graeme says people like Les and his men are a real motivation for him. “Les is an inspiration for us all.  We know that the research-led programmes and facilities we are developing are going to have an immediate impact for heroes like Les and the families in our community he is working with.  We can’t wait to see this in action.” - Hawke's Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust