Drink, smoking, obesity and STDs – the £8million bill for Sunderland’s unhealthy excesses

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TACKLING the unhealthy excesses of the people of Sunderland has cost council tax payers more than £8million this year.

The figures, which we can reveal during the festive season – traditionally a time of over indulgence – were obtained through a freedom of information request, and show just how much city residents’ way of life is costing the taxpayer.

Sunderland City Council’s estimated spend on tackling drug misuse in adults, alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity in the current financial year of 2013 to 2014, amounts to £8,213,387.

The council is spending an estimated £2,445,373 on promoting sexual health, but just £36,174 on promoting physical activity – although its exercise referral scheme falls under the costs incurred for treating obesity.

Council leader Coun Paul Watson thinks people need to change their way of life before the amount spent is reduced.

He said: “It’s that whole issue with recreational drugs and alcohol use. It’s a massive problem which affects all communities across the city.

“We work closely with statutory agencies, like the police and health services. The public expect us to respond to this.”

He added: “Most of these things are lifestyle issues where people lead a unhealthy way of life that leads to all these things we are talking about.

“People aren’t moving enough, aren’t getting enough exercise, engaging in smoking and drinking and recreational drugs. We need to educate people and help them make the right decisions for their lives.”

Tory opposition leader Robert Oliver said: “These figures reveal that much of the public health spend in Sunderland goes on lifestyle choices and the consequences of them.

“Much can be done to make people healthier in the city, and this needs to be supported, but drinking, smoking and unhealthy eating are damaging the people of Sunderland.”

Figures from North East Alcohol Office Balance show that the region continues to have the most alcohol-related hospital admissions, the highest rate of under 18 drink-specific hospital admissions and also the biggest number of under 18s in alcohol treatment in England.

Smoking results in 460,000 GP consultations and 13,766 hospital appointments in the North East every year according to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, while nearly 9,000 children in the North East start smoking every year.

Meanwhile, a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows that Sunderland is a child obesity blackspot, with 10.6 per cent of reception age children classed as being obese.

That figure is almost doubled among Year 6 pupils, at 21.3 per cent.