In 1962 the Smoking and Health study by the Royal College of Physicians laid out to the public and politicians the true harms of smoking for the first time. It stated that about 70% of men and 40% of women in the UK smoked and the health consequences were devastating. Now in 2017, 17.4% of men and 13.7% of women smoke and last year we saw the biggest drop in smoking among adults in a decade. This is an example of public understanding and engagement catching up with evidence, in this case over the course of 55 years.
We do not always see a time lag like this, as shown by sugar and the fight against obesity. The public are engaged despite the evidence being recent, meaning policies can be advanced quickly and efficiently. It is when the right balance between having evidence and the backing of the people is struck that we get the most positive change and effective interventions from policy makers. This is when the role of public health in modern democracy is at its most powerful.
Recently Andrew Furber, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health and Director of Public Health for Wakefield, wrote an article on this, capturing perfectly the relationship between evidence and policy making. It is not possible to separate politics and public health, the two are intrinsically linked. From local planning and school standards to creating happier, healthier neighbourhoods, policies for local areas matter as much as national policies on smoking and tackling obesity. With the duty to improve the public’s health resting with local government where most decisions that matter are taken, our best years as influencers are most certainly ahead of us. I encourage you to read this.
Health inequalities are systematic, avoidable and unfair. This week Mayor of London Sadiq Khan put his stamp on tackling health inequalities with the launch of a consultation on a strategy for London. PHE London, led by Professor Yvonne Doyle, is centrally involved in assisting the mayor in taking this forward.
Yesterday we launched Active 10, a new physical activity campaign, urging people to do at least one brisk 10 minute walk a day. We know it can be hard to fit in enough physical activity, but brisk walking for ten minutes every day can make a difference to our health. This is about getting our heart rate up enough to make these steps impact, rather than just walking a certain amount each day which may not be affecting our heart, brain and bone health in the way we hoped for. Brisk walking has health benefits such as lowering the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes and dementia, and improving the health of people living with many chronic diseases. The free Active 10 app allows users to track their activity, shows when they have been walking briskly and highlights opportunities to do more.
Planners in local authorities have a major role in enabling healthier environments. Built and natural environments are major determinants of health and wellbeing, and it is important that planning decisions are made with this in mind. PHE has worked with the Department of Communities and Local Government to provide guidance on creating healthier food environments. The guidance explains the role of health and wellbeing in planning more broadly but has now been strengthened and lays out how planners have opportunities to create healthier food production and food outlets in communities. Please do take a look.
And finally, I was one of many parents awaiting news of GCSE results this week and A Level results last week. I hope for all those in this position that these went well.
With best wishes,
Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK