Public health is about society making an organised effort to improve health and prevent disease. Good public health policy makes a great contribution to the overall quality of our lives and affects almost every other area of policy making.
Many policies to improve health must be implemented at society, not individual, level and responsibility cannot be wholly dumped only on personal lifestyles. For example, being overweight usually starts in childhood and once the person is obese it is very difficult to reverse. Healthy diets and exercise are as much society problems as that of individuals.
There has been a failure at government level to face up to the challenges and responsibilities of public health. We believe that a government serious about public health must take action to separate itself from industry involvement.
Intensive lobbying by vested interests such as the sugar, tobacco, alcohol and food industries has seriously reduced the role of government in acting in the wider public interest. Voluntary agreements are not an adequate substitute for public health policy. Levels of obesity, including childhood obesity, are on the increase across society. Liver disease in the under 30s has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
The government response to alcohol related crime and disease, with an estimated cost to the economy of £21bn a year, is a voluntary ‘Responsibility Deal’ with the drinks industry, which has committed to putting out a health message on 80% of all bottles and cans. The industry itself has adopted the mantle of public responsibility for education and information on the harm its own products create.
Early in 2014 the BMJ reported that ‘corporate responsibility for self-regulation has taken over the role of governmental public health policy’.
Services like immunisation, sexual health, health visiting, health promotion and smoking cessation are being increasingly outsourced to the private sector, and increasingly linked to commercial exploitation. We believe that essential public health services must not be provided for profit or under the influence of industry.
- introduction of plain cigarette packing, minimum unit pricing for alcohol and a sugar tax.
- more stringent requirements on the fast food industry to cut the use of additives such as sugar and salt.
- more overt food and drink labelling, including calorie labelling on alcohol.
- tougher controls on alcohol advertising
- stricter rules and greater transparency surrounding links between the food & drinks and pharmaceutical industries, and public health research & policy
- greater access to exercise and sport in schools and local communities.
- adequate funding of local authority public health education and public health policies, which should form a major focus of political policy.
- stopping the outsourcing of public health services and taking them back into the NHS family to enable better integration and planning with NHS services.