The new chief executive of a Black Country health trust yesterday revealed his key mission - to improve the public's health, and tackle the growing obesity problem.

Paul Jennings, who currently heads North Birmingham Primary Care Trust, will take over full-time at Walsall Teaching PCT next month.

Having already spent ten months as the trust's interim chief executive, he will now be responsible for a population of 256,000 and a £300 million budget.

Mr Jennings, who launched North Birmingham PCT's successful smoking cessation scheme, now hopes to achieve similar results with Walsall's weight problems.

He said: "One of the key issues for us is public health: getting people to eat better, drink less and exercise more.

"While the message on stopping smoking is finally being heeded, we now have to do the same to help people battle obesity.

"There has been a reduction in smokingrelated illnesses in the past ten years, and we want to see a similar drop in cases of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions linked to diet and weight.

"Our lifestyles have become more sedentary with convenience foods replacing home cooking, and leisure time now spent playing computer games or watching television rather than going for walks or playing sports."

However Mr Jennings, who lives in Walsall, said he realised that the simple equation of eat less, do more was easier said than done for many people.

North Birmingham PCT achieved some good results with its Exercise by Prescription scheme, which encouraged people to take time to do some gentle exercise every week.

He said: "Even when people look to a role model, someone they think is healthy and fit, they may seem so far away from who they are that taking the first step to a new regime can be very difficult.

" I also want to improve the public's education on food, to achieve an understanding of what they're eating and what it's doing to their bodies."

Walsall Teaching PCT's main strategy for beating obesity is to improve primary care facilities in the area.

Since November, Mr Jennings has overseen the opening of four new or upgraded health centres at a cost of £14 million.

Yesterday he opened Harden Health Centre in Walsall, the newest facility to offer primary care services.

Mr Jennings, who also chairs the West Midlands Renal Network, said: "Following last year's Black Country Review, we are looking to introduce new models of care for patients, aimed at caring for the whole community."