NHS health promotion lacks imagination

The NHS lacks imagination in how it tackles obesity and tobacco-related illnesses and needs to do a lot to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles, a leading think-tank has said.

A year-long study by the King’s Fund has concluded that the NHS will fail to tackle the rising tide of obesity and tobacco-related illnesses unless it adopts more sophisticated techniques, including learning a few lessons from commercial advertisers in how to help people to live healthier lifestyles.

Deep-rooted social habits are not easily changed by one-off, short-lived measures, it warned, and many NHS staff lacked the skills and incentives to effectively help people choose and maintain healthier lifestyles.

Public health programmes, which often focused on simply providing information or financial incentives, needed to rely on more than just one approach, it argued. And a robust evaluation, both of short- and long-term changes in behaviour and health outcomes, needed to be made a requirement of all public health programmes to build an evidence base for the future.

Front-line staff also needed to become more proactive in promoting healthy habits to the patients they see every day, with contracts and incentives to be used to encourage such behaviour.

“Financial incentives and information campaigns can be useful but are far more likely to lead to real and long-term changes in people’s behaviour when paired with other interventions such as tailored information and personalised support,” said Dr Anna Dixon, King’s Fund director of policy and report co-author.

The warning comes as the latest research has suggested one in three UK adults will be obese by 2012.

The study, in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analysed data between 1993 and 2004 from the Health Survey for England and concluded that almost half of these obese people will be from low income and disadvantaged communities.

This meant the health gap between the haves and have-nots would widen even further, warned the researchers from University College London.

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