As a nation, we are living longer, but we're spending more years in ill-health.
We're increasingly living with multiple conditions and services are struggling to cope with rising demand for treatment.
Fifteen million people in Britain are living with a long-term condition, many of which are preventable. And as much as 40% of ill health in England is due to potentially preventable risk factors, with unhealthy diet and tobacco being the two biggest risks.
Yet one in five adults still smoke. Almost two thirds of adults are overweight or obese. And it's estimated that more than 10m adults are drinking at levels that pose some risk to their health. Health problems related to smoking, alcohol and obesity cost the NHS £11bn every year.
We also know that unhealthy behaviours are influenced by, and reinforce, health inequalities. For example, in 2013, 12% of adults in managerial and professional occupations smoked compared with 29% in routine and manual occupations. Smoking prevalence is also significantly higher among people with mental health problems than among the general population.
And of course, as our health gets worse, the need for costly NHS treatments increases and will continue to rise unless we make significant changes. For example, Diabetes UK estimates that almost three million people in England are diabetic, with risk factors including high blood pressure and being overweight. Another seven million people are thought to be at risk of developing the condition.
Time to change
In order to improve population health and deliver a sustainable health service we need to get serious about prevention. The NHS Five Year Forward View has argued that in order to do this we need to foster a more engaged relationship with patients, carers and citizens so that we can promote wellbeing and prevent ill-health.
This means empowering patients to take control of their health and engaging local communities, which are often better able to reach under-served groups and advise commissioners on particular local needs.
Tackling obesity, smoking and harmful drinking are major priorities for PHE but our research has shown that many adults struggle to imagine how the consequence of their actions today will impact on them in the future.
The environment in which we live, work and play can also make it tough to choose healthy options – with many of us sitting at a desk for eight hours a day...tempting treats in easy reach and technology making it increasingly easy to shop, be entertained and keep in touch with friends and family from the sofa.
So giving people the support they need to make better choices could have a huge influence on preventing conditions like type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease as well as reducing the risk of suffering a stroke or living with dementia, disability and frailty later in life.
One You, a new campaign launched by Public Health England this week, aims to provide exactly that support. This starts with a new and simple quiz tool to enable adults to assess their health and gain a greater understanding of the behaviours they need to change, as well as providing easy access to information and support to help them improve their health.
One You is particularly aimed at adults in ‘mid-life’ (40-60 years). At 40 and over there are still lots of small lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on health and quality of life. Supporting people to become healthier in middle age can increase their chances of being healthy in later years (70 and over). It is never too late to take action.
Users are signposted to a range of apps for further support, such as Couch to 5k to help increase physical activity, Easy Meals to cut down on calories, Drinks Tracker to keep an eye on drinking levels and the Smokefree app for those who want to quit smoking. The campaign will also provide information on reducing stress levels and getting a better night's sleep. We'll be encouraging everyone to search 'One You' online, take the quiz and try the tools.
Getting the message out there
The How Are You quiz could also be a useful tool to help health professionals start a conversation about lifestyle, and may prompt more people to ask for advice on losing weight or stopping smoking, for example.
We are working with a huge number of commercial, public and charity partners (including local authorities), to take the campaign into communities.
One You will be visible on every high street through our pharmacy partners, including a number of independent pharmacies, and a wide range of commercial partners are helping us to raise awareness in workplaces, communities, high streets, shops, on TV and online, including Asda, Amazon, BBC Get Inspired and Slimming World.
In order for the campaign to be successful in changing behaviours and improving health, it also needs support from professionals across the health service and other public sector organisations. A wide range of materials to help promote One You can be found on our campaign resource centre.
It is up to all of us to make a change and shape our future health and the future sustainability of our health services. One You is a vital new way of supporting people to achieve – and sustain – positive behaviour change.
Let’s not leave it too late.