A first for Scotland
Scotland is set to become the first country in the world to set minimum prices for alcohol. The aim is to reduce the amount problem drinkers consume by raising the price of the strongest, cheapest alcohol., like super strong cider.
This follows a five year legal battle with the Scottish Whisky Association, which had challenged the Scottish government's plans, in the courts. Now the UK's Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the measure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
The true cost of Obesity
We all know obesity is a big drain on the NHS - £5.1 billion a year according to the Obesity Health Alliance. That's enought to pay for another 85,000 hospital doctors per year.
However, there's an even bigger cost to the UK - the £27 billion to society. We don't often hear about this but obesity has a major impact on the life chances of individuals and families, with knock on effects on the economy and society. For example:
- Emerging evidence from research in the USA, Chile and Spain suggests that obesity slows educational development. For instance a US study found that obese children were slower to recognise when they had made a mistake and slower to correct the mistake.
- The there's the impact on employment prospects. Research indicates that employers are less likely to employ people who are obese and, if they do, it is more often in lower paid jobs.
We hope the government will recognise the true cost of obesity to the UK and step up its action to tackle the problem.
David versus Goliath
Junk food companies are spending 27.5 times more advertising their products than the government spends advertising its healthy eating campaign. That's what the Obesity Health Alliance has found.
This echoes our own, earlier research for Healthy and Wealthy? For example we found that one company spent more advertising a single chocolate bar than the government spent advertising its entire healthy living campaign. That's why we recommended:
The advertising budget for Public Health England should be linked to the UK's commercial advertising expenditure on junk food, to seek to ensure adults are receiving reasonably balanced communications regarding food whose regular consumption increases health risks.
Healthier food - good for people's health and good for the food industry?
New research has confirmed one of the key findings from our 2015 report Healthy and Wealthy?
We identified that producing healthier food wasn't just good for people's health. It was good for the food industry too. That's because consumers are becoming more educated and more health conscious - and more educated, health conscious consumers have greater lifetime value for food companies, because they spend more on food each year and tend to live ( and spend) for longer.
The latest research confirming this trend was a recent study of 12.5 million social media posts from 18 - 35 year olds, an important market for the food industry. This found they
- Want healthy, natural food
- Are less interested in dieting, fat free foods, snacks and convenience foods
- Prefer water and 'better for you' drinks, not carbonated sugary drinks
We hope the food industry will recognise the value of speeding up its work to make mass produced food healthier - with less sugar, salt and saturated fat and more dietary fibre.
Is the UK becoming the Sick Woman of Europe?
Growth in female life expectancy at birth for British women is now the worst in Europe - and the second worst for men. That’s according to the EU statistics body Eurostat.
Until 2010, life expectancy was gradually increasing in the UK, at a rate of an extra year of life almost every four years. However, that increase then started to stall.
Could this be a result of the government’s austerity programme? Possibly, but countries which have experienced greater austerity, like Spain, Greece and Portugal, are doing better than the UK when it comes to life expectancy improvements.
Could it be that life expectancy is reaching its natural limit? Possibly, but a number of other European countries which already have better life expectancy than the UK have seen their life expectancy continue to improve.
What this illustrates once again is the need for the UK (its government, its health services, its businesses and its people) to recognise that prevention is better than cure – and to get serious about tackling the preventable causes of premature death.
'Pre-hab' Health action - the way forward for surgery?
We know that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of serious illness. Might it also help if you need surgery?
That's what an innovative project at Imperial College Healthcare suggests. As the BMJ identifies, having surgery puts a strain on the body, a bit like running a marathon. So why not prepare patients for this, through a 'pre-hab' programme to encourage physical exercise, healthy eating, reducing smoking and alcohol consumption and enhance psychological well-being? That's exactly what Imperial's PREPARE for Surgery did for patients with gastro-oesophogeal cancer.
- Post operative complications down from 70% to 30%
- Pneumonia rates halved
- Patients discharged from hospital after seven or eight days, instead of the usual seventeen days
As a result the programme is due to be expanded to cover patients with liver cancer, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer.
We welcome this initiative and look forward to seeing it become the norm for patients awaiting surgery. Our guiding principle here at Health Action Campiagn is that prevention is better than cure. It now seems that prevention can help even when a cure is needed.
1st July - a significant day for public health?
Today the ban on unhealthy food ads aimed at children was widened - to include social media, cinema and print. The ban was announced last December but takes effect today. There are still loop holes. For example many children watch programmes like Britain's Got Talent - but not enough for it to be classed as a children's programme, so the ban doesn't apply in this kind of situation and similarly with social media. However, it is step forward, we welcome it and hope more steps will follow in the years ahead.
Ten years ago today another significant ban was introduced - on smoking in public places. The ban was controversial at the time, like many public health initiatives - but it is now supported by the majority of people, it has helped reduce the number of people who smoke and in particular the number of young people who smoke - and it has even improved the health of bar staff, previously victims of passive smoking.
A hung Parliament - the implications for public health?
Brexit negotiations and action to ensure the government's survival will obviously be high on the political agenda. We hope public health will also be high on the agenda too. That's because:
- A healthier population will reduce pressure on the NHS and social care.
- A healthier workforce is good for business and good for the economy.
- The UK has the potential to become global market leader in the production, sale and marketing of healthier food.
So that's a win-win for government, for business and for health.
Political will is needed to tackle obesity in the UK
In the run up to the General Election on June 8th, that was the message from Health Action Campaign and other members of the Obesity Health Alliance, in a letter published in The Guardian.
The message is clear: whoever forms the next government cannot afford to neglect the obesity agenda. Obesity is blighting lives, costing the NHS billions a year, jeopardising the health of future generations, and it is entirely preventable.
Health News that caught our eye
Here are a three news stories which suggest positive, achieveable ways of improving public health:
- Amsterdam has found a way to reduce the number of overweight and obese children, particularly in poorer parts of the city. The Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam has led a coordinated approach, from promoting tap water to refusing sponsorship to events that take money from Coca Cola or McDonalds. With the role of elected Mayor taking off here in the UK this is a way they could really make a difference for children’s health.
- A five-year study of 250,000 UK commuters suggested that regular cycling cut the incidence of cancer by 45% and of heart disease by 46%. The full report is in the BMJ. We encourage employers to help more of their employees cycle to work, through simple, low cost options like providing lockers, so people can change from cycling clothes to work clothes.
- The NHS is set to ban the sale of sugary drinks and fatty snacks in hospital cafes and canteens - unless action is taken to drastically cut their sales, health officials have said. Under a national plan, retailers including Marks & Spencer and W H Smiths and Subway have agreed to cut sales of sweet drinks to a maximum of 10 per cent of their drinks output.
Should the Food Industry be part of the government's new Industrial Strategy?
In our report Healthy and Wealthy? we recommended that the government work with the food industry and health experts to make the UK's food industry the global market leader in the mass production of healthier food i.e. lower in sugar, salt and relevant saturated fats and higher in dietary fibre. This would be good for the food industry and good for the nation's health.
However, there's now a risk that the food industry will slip through the net. It isn't included in the government's proposed new Industrial Strategy. Instead the government refers readers to a proposed 25 year plan for Food Farming and Fisheries. However, initial indications are that this is going to focus primarily on the growing of food rather than its processing and retailing.
If you share our view that the government's proposed Industrial Strategy should include a target to become world leader in the mass production of healthier food then watch this space. The snap General Election means this kind of issue will temporarily move to the back of the queue. However, once the Election is over we'll be working to move it back up the agenda again.
Here is the HAC response to the proposed Industrial Strategy.
Should Cadbury Chocolate be sponsoring the Premier League?
We think this sends the wrong message, particularly to children. That's why we signed the Obesity Health Alliance's letter, published in The Times on February 6th.
The Childhood Obesity Plan
The government’s long delayed Childhood Obesity Plan was finally published in mid-August 2016 – and immediately ran into a barrage of criticism.
So what is the strategy – and what is our verdict? You can find out here: The Childhood Obesity Plan - our verdict