The state of the NHS is a hot topic. With upcoming election on June 8th, it’s hotter than ever. It is certainly no secret that our health service is struggling. Every year we hear about the “winter pressures“, increased A&E waiting times and chronic underfunding. The British Medical Association (BMA) has recently released a report describing that the NHS is at “breaking point”. They ask our government to tackle three key areas of public health by increasing public funding to fight obesity, smoking and drinking. Each of these causes preventable diseases (a disease caused by a changeable behaviour).
In turn, this costs huge amounts of money in health and social care. The combined cost is estimated at £18 billion per year across the UK. So what can you do to help yourself and the NHS?
Obesity, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of >30, is on the rise. 26% of men, 24% of women and 15% of children in England are obese. Being obese can decrease your life expectancy by as much as 10 years. Obesity increases the risk of developing several chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and cancer. Click here to check your BMI. Current models suggest that by 2030 41-48% of men and 35-43% of women could be obese if trends continue. That’s one big world and one big problem.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the UK, with it being linked to cancer, respiratory diseases such as COPD and cardiovascular disease. Since the smoking ban was enforced in 2007, the numbers of people smoking have declined. However, currently, 17% of adults in the UK still smoke. Half of all smokers will die before they reach the age of 70, with an averaged loss of 10 years of life expectancy. Think of that next time you take a drag.
10 million adults currently drink above the recommended weekly limits for alcohol intake. Alcohol is linked to over sixty preventable medical conditions, including cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach and liver, cirrhosis, hypertension and depression. In the past ten years, there has been an increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths. In 2015 there were 8,758 deaths due to alcohol and over one million hospital admissions related to excess alcohol intake.
Public Health Campaigns
It has been proven that investing in public health campaigns can change people’s behaviour. Examples of well known, simple campaigns, include drink aware, change for life, and stoptober. If we can invest in curbing these habits by funding decent health awareness campaigns we can reduce the number of people suffering from preventable diseases.
What’s in store for the future?
One thing is clear, these lifestyle habits are not good for us as individuals and not good for our strapped-for-cash NHS. In a world of funding cuts and a health and social care system which is under increasing pressure it makes sense to tackle these areas doesn’t it? In an ideal situation, the next government (whoever that may be) will listen to the pleas of the BMA and increase public funding in these areas. Who knows whether this will happen? So maybe in the mean time, we should extinguish those cigarettes, put down the burgers and pints and go for a long walk.
Trusted Medicine Education: Primary Prevention
The best cure is to not have a disease at all. Primary prevention is the concept of altering risk factors to prevent disease. Within the sphere of ”Public Health”, that is the health behaviours of the people overall, primary prevention means changing behaviour. We know that smoking causes disease, so one risk factor for the development of these diseases is smoking. However, to stop smoking we must first understand the societal, cultural and biological reasons that people choose to smoke. As Ben Goldacre says’ ”I think you will find its a little more complicated than that”.
A good primary prevention campaign will take into account all the whys and whens. Poverty, stress, depression, accessibility, family, exposure and advertising all cause smoking. So how do we fight it? Increase the cost, tackle mental health issue, challenge stereotypes and create alternatives. Only a comprehensive strategy, working with the patient and their community, will work. This is as true of smoking as it is overeating, drinking and drug use.
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article edited for publication by Dr BM Janaway.
Sources and Further Reading
- Department of Health (2009) Cost of obesity to NHS in England. London: Department of Health https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/obesity-and-healthy-eating
- NHS Information Centre (2011). Statistical Bulletin – statistics on smoking available online at http://content.digital.nhs.uk/pubs/smoking11
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