Kilkenny is to become the centre of attention as Ireland’s first ever ‘Healthy Town’, with an innovative new ten-week programme to improve people’s health and quality of life beginning last week.
The programme, ‘Healthy Town’, is a collaboration between The Irish Times, Pfizer Healthcare Ireland and the Kilkenny community. It combines health-promotion events and physical activities, with most events free of charge.
The ten-week programme is something that everyone can take part in and improve their own individual health and well-being on their own terms. It also offers participating individuals free health checks of their BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure at the start and completion of the programme to track progress and impact.
Health checks and evaluation of the initiative will be conducted by the Centre for Health Behaviour and Research at Waterford Institute of Technology.
Speaking at the launch of the event in the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle last Wednesday evening, the Mayor of Kilkenny Sean O’ hArgain said that Kilkenny was the perfect place to begin the programme, in part due to the efforts of the local authority in encouraging people to take on a healthier lifestyle.
“We are honoured that Kilkenny has been chosen as the first location to host the Healthy Town programme and I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved and get fit and healthy while having the support of the programme at hand,” he said.
“As many people will already know, health and fitness is of personal interest to me and I am using my year as Mayor to try to instil the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the people of Kilkenny.”
The mayor, who competes in events such as marathons and triathlons, and travels around the city via bicycle, also leads a ‘Mayor’s Walk’ around the city every Saturday morning at 11am from the Parade.
In the coming weeks, the Irish Times will feature the Healthy Town programme in its weekly health supplement, HEALTHplus, and in a specially designed Healthy Town microsite based on the main Irish Times website.
“The Irish Times / Pfizer Healthy Town brings together the best from our partners and ourselves at the Irish Times,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, editor of the Irish Times.
“Our readers in Kilkenny and beyond will benefit from good advice from experts in person, in the paper, particularly through the HEALTHplus supplement which is published on Tuesdays and on the website that equips them to lead healthier lives.”
Mayor O’ hArgain, who is also a school principal in Gaelscoil Osrai, said he was acutely aware of the rising figures of childhood obesity.
“It is very sad to see the fallout from childhood obesity and this is not just in physical health – but also the effect it can have on a child’s mental health,” he said.
“It can become an extremely serious issue and so needs to be addressed from a young age. Of course it is up to parents to ensure that children are not overweight and to ensure that they are taking enough exercise.
“Children often need encouragement in this area as we all know but they will thank us for it in the long run. Most Kilkenny schools are taking a leading role in encouraging healthy lunch boxes and this is welcome and very much the way forward. What children eat and do after school is of course up to parents and parents should actively encourage children to play sports and partake in physical exercise that is fun and healthy.”
As last Sunday’s All-Ireland final loomed, Mayor O’ hArgain had special mention for the role played by hurling in the lives of Kilkenny people.
“For thousands of children across the city and county, this sport is integral to their physical and mental well-being,” he said.
“Hurling is more than just a sport for Kilkenny people – it is a full-blown culture. Children are holding hurls in their hands as soon as they are able to hold spoons, and therefore it could be said that hurling is almost innate in a Kilkenny child.
“Hurling contributes hugely to our health and it gives joy to so many people. It enhances our lives in countless ways and this weekend is a huge day in the lives of the majority of the population of Kilkenny.”
David Gallagher, managing director of Pfizer Healthcare Ireland, said that Kilkenny had been chosen for a number of reasons, in part because its citizens and the local authorities are very supportive of health-related initiatives, and because it has the necessary infrastructure in place, including walking routes, cycle routes and walk-to-work schemes.
In recent years, there have been many new amenities developed for the people of Kilkenny, such as the Nore Linear Park, the Lacken Walk, and the various cycle lanes and footpaths recently constructed in the city – as well as the Watershed at Scanlon Park.
The local authority also offers grants to local community groups or organisations who are interested in establishing amenities for the people in the community. These grants are in place to offer communities the opportunity to install facilities that will contribute to the health and well-being of the people living in the area.