Healthy Approach to a Healthy Nation

Irish Life Health launched the results of its Schools Fitness Challenge yesterday and Managing Director Jim Dowdall was proud of the increasing impact and the clear evidence of health benefit that the challenge is encouraging.

The third biggest player in the Healthcare market behind VHI and the AIG owned Laya Healthcare, Irish Life was a merger between Aviva’s Health business in Ireland and that of Glohealth where Dowdall was an original founder.

Read about the results of the 2017 Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge

He has an active interest in sport with his nephew Jack and niece Sarah McCaffrey both playing crucial roles in Dublin GAA’s Double All Ireland triumph last year.

Sport for Business sat down with Dowdall at Croke Park at the launch of the results of the Challenge and he had plenty of interest to share.

The report this year shows an increase of 30 percent in the numbers taking part, was that a deliberate push on your part or has it been driven by schools?

It’s an example of the mission we have to really build this project year on year. The ambition is that this will continue and the more that take part, the more schools that want to be in the next year.

PE teachers are increasingly aware of it and there is an increase in the competitive focus that schools naturally have.

The results which show the impact early intervention can have make it a very important project and one we are delighted to back.

The increase in girls participation is notable, where has that come from?

This has been driven by the schools and it’s a really positive element of this year’s survey.  The girls have shown an overall 16 percent improvement as opposed to 6 percent for the boys.

It’s important now to get across the message of keeping involved through the latter part of your time in school that really makes a difference later in life.

Is it important that PE is now going to be on the formal curriculum from this year at Leaving Cert level?

I’m particularly pleased that it’s been incorporated into the curriculum but that is just a start. There should be mandatory participation at all levels to improve physical activity.

The curriculum itself is dated and we need to make better use of the time that children are in school to introduce a greater lifelong understanding of the importance that nutrition plays, that exercise plays and that activity plays through the whole of a persons life.

Does this give Irish Life Health a good benchmark for the overall population and their levels of fitness?

Our dual perspective is about providing strong access to healthcare when needed but with an equal emphasis on wellbeing so that people stay well longer.

Encouraging adults to be more active is an important part of what we want to encourage and that is based on what they learn themselves as children or through their children.

We have ongoing relationships with Athletics Ireland and with the GAA through the Healthy Clubs initiative.  These are targetted at making sure that communities and groups across all stages of life are being encouraged to think about what they can do to manage their own approach to a healthy lifestyle.

These represent a substantial investment, are they working well for you?

We work very closely with the GAA and it’s a partnership we are very proud of. More and more clubs are becoming smoke-free zones and introducing healthy eating initiatives.  That kind of difference is really important and leads to a cultural shift in terms of how people think about their health.

Both relationships provide us with an opportunity to make a real positive contribution to the overall health of the nation.

How does the business community play a role in that as well?

Corporate Ireland already makes a significant contribution.

700,000 people are provided with access by their company to corporate health schemes which reduce the burden on the state.

It should be encouraged at every turn to focus on health and wellbeing among their staff and this should be encouraged by incentives from Government.

Our system is community rated and if it wasn’t for the contribution of corporate Ireland that might not be sustainable. Often that does not get enough recognition and it’s something which we see as being very important in terms of the overall healthcare debate that we have in Ireland.

Does Irish Life Health have a wellbeing programme for its own staff?

There is no single programme that would work for all. We have a range of initiatives across the year and we get very good levels of participation which help not only the health but also the mood of the workforce.

It’s something that is very important among foreign direct investment companies and among big IT companies that recognise the value of a well motivated and physically active workplace. That’s something we are keen to encourage and work with them on.

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