Books can be good for your babies

18th July 1997 at 01:00
Links being forged by the Government did not grab headlines, but were welcomed by public health specialists. Nicolas Barnard reports

From handing books to babies to giving health talks to football teams, one organisation is putting practice before rhetoric.

The Community Education Development Centre sees links with the health service as a key part of extending education to people who traditionally get left out.

That means creating close links with health visitors and other primary healthcare workers, with twin campaigns to improve literacy and extend health education.

The work is made all the more relevant by a Basic Skills Agency study showing the crippling effects of illiteracy on physical and mental health.

"If we are really taking public health seriously, then literacy is a health issue," says Maggie Robinson, who is busy tapping health authorities for funds as development manager at the Coventry-based CEDC.

One example is Babies Need Books, piloted in the Rugby area by the CEDC with health visitors, speech therapists, librarians and children's workers. It begins with a baby's first appointment with the health visitor, at six weeks. Parents receive a book, posters, and leaflets on services such as libraries.

Follow-up sessions teach parents to spend 10 minutes a day talking and reading with their children. Adults are shown how to share books and reminded of long-forgotten nursery rhymes.

"It is preventative," says co-ordinator Sue Robus. "You might be using the health service, but you are hopefully taking some of the load off later in respect of things like the speech therapy service, which is incredibly stretched."

Meanwhile, on the parks and pitches of the West Midlands, the Alive and Kicking competition has used Sunday league football to get health messages across to hard-to-reach young males. Points are won in quizzes on topics such as safe sex, or for registering with a GP.

"The response has been amazing," says Maggie Robinson. "Almost all the men said they now knew more about health, and a lot said it had in some way changed their lifestyle. Many had improved their diet and many had stopped smoking. "

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