UK commission calls for consistency in public health strategy

"The biggest problem Is confusion": UK commission calls for greater clarity and consistency in public health strategy.

Public health strategies are failing to have their desired impact because inconsistent and confusing consumer information is blocking the facilitation of behaviour change, an independent commission reported today.

Set up by the UK's Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, a high-profile commission of experts drawn from business, the Third Sector (non-profit and non-governmental organisations) and academia will this morning set out its recommendations for dealing with the rising tide of obesity and alcohol abuse in a wide-ranging review.

The Public Health Commission's report We're All In This Together, Improving the Long-Term Health of the Nation outlines the need for a greater level of clarity and consistency to help people make the right choices wherever they are, whatever they are doing. It also declares that genuine partnership between Government, business and the Third Sector could unlock sustainable and significant progress in improving the health of the nation.

The We're All In This Together report sets out a number of recommendations for improving and aligning the contributions of businesses, charities and public sector organisations in tackling public health issues around diet, alcohol consumption and physical activity. The recommendations include:

  • A single, branded vehicle should be established to deliver three key health messages through all channels around healthy diet, understanding the "calories in" vs. "calories out" equation, and responsible drinking.

  • Providing common and consistent nutritional information about the food people eat, whether they buy it in a supermarket or in an out-of-home setting such as a restaurant or pub.

  • Standardising the portion sizes on which nutritional information is based to ensure full comparability and relevance to how the products are consumed in and out of home.

  • Using sales data of supermarkets, gyms and restaurants to evaluate in real-time whether Government campaigns are changing behaviour.

  • Extending restrictions on advertising food to children to cover all new and non-broadcast media.

  • Amending the tax system to support all forms of physical activity through reduced VAT rate.

In his speech, Public Health Commission Chairman Dave Lewis said: "Every year, more than 80,000 people die prematurely from diet or alcohol related ill-health. It's a fact which speaks for itself – quite clearly we have a serious challenge which needs to be urgently confronted.

"People get lots of information about their health – at work, in schools, in their communities and through the media - but they're not getting clear and consistent support and sufficiently motivating messages. Because the initiatives we have aren't strategic, they don't fit together and they aren't working."

Lewis, also chairman of Unilever UK & Ireland, added: "What's missing is a holistic approach, one that has strategic intent, executional detail and wide ownership by those organisations and individuals with consumer-reach. We need an approach that provides a framework for action against a single goal: improving the long-term health of the nation.

"Business and Government working in partnership and taking a shared responsibility can make this big difference by helping to educate and inform people through clear and consistent messages, and by providing the opportunities to enable people to make the right lifestyle decisions for a longer, healthier life."

The Public Health Commission was established by Andrew Lansley in August last year to examine the possibility of a "Responsibility Deal" between Government and the private sector to achieve improvements in public health. However, it acted with full independence from the Conservative Party throughout.

Its members include many of the major players in the health debate from business, the Third Sector and academia.

-- End --

Notes to Editors

The Public Health Commission consisted of:

Dave Lewis, Chairman, Unilever UK & Ireland

Jeremy Beadles, Chief Executive, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association

Baroness Peta Buscombe, Chief Executive, Advertising Association

Professor Judith Buttriss, Director General, British Nutrition Foundation

Professor Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, University of Liverpool

Professor David Coggon, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Southampton General Hospital

Paul Kelly, Corporate Affairs Director, Asda

Mark Leverton, Director, Alcohol Policy & Industry Issues, Diageo

Michael Livingston, Director, HEART UK

Helen McCallum, Director of Policy and Communications, Which?

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, CMG, Executive Director, Corporate & Legal Affairs, Tesco

Dr Nick Sheron, Head of Clinical Hepatology, University of Southampton

Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive, Diabetes UK

Fred Turok, Chairman, Fitness Industry Association

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