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Duncan Selbie's Friday Message - 19 January 2018

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Dear everyone

Improving life expectancy is important but even more so is improving healthy life expectancy, or as the Christian Aid sign outside their headquarters in Lambeth puts it, ‘we believe in life before death’. In the last week I have spent time in both Bradford and Brighton, cities with a stark difference in life expectancies and again in years spent in good health. Each is unique, tackling problems of the past and the present but both are pursuing economic growth and the spreading of prosperity through creating jobs that local people can get, tackling poor housing and improving education standards amongst much else. Both cities are working with their partners including the NHS and the business sector, drawing on each other’s strengths to ensure a focus on people and place and tackling the wider determinants that affect them. This is public health in action.

High streets also have a valuable contribution to make to people’s health. On Wednesday this week, we published a review of the latest evidence on the health and wellbeing benefits of making high streets in urban settings more inclusive, safer and healthier, particularly in areas of high deprivation. For decision makers such as town planners and local public health teams, this evidence will hopefully help in the choices they are making.

On Tuesday, a Code of Practice was launched by an alliance of some of the largest out-of-home food and drink companies, including McDonalds, Wetherspoons, Whitbread, Greggs and Starbucks. This sets out their public commitment to achieve the sugar reduction target of 20% by 2020 promised in the Childhood Obesity Plan. With 20% and increasing of all calories consumed outside of the home or from takeaways, this is a welcome step forward and will have a positive impact on the health of the millions of customers they welcome into their stores and restaurants every day.

The most important factor affecting cancer survival is an early diagnosis. Whilst treatment is of course crucial, even more important is to act early in the progression of the disease and this is where our screening and Be Clear on Cancer campaigns come into their own. On Wednesday, we published our fifth Routes to Diagnosis update which marks a decade’s worth of data, covering over 3 million diagnoses of cancer, making it the most comprehensive data of its kind in the world. It also includes a new interactive tool, which for the first time provides cancer diagnosis trends for 53 different types of cancer and will allow doctors to understand where survival rates are improving and where more can be done. You can learn more in our blog.

Having a good job, a home and friendship in our lives lay the foundation for good health, and earlier this week the Prime Minister announced that Tracey Crouch MP will be the Minister for Loneliness. This is a new portfolio to tackle a problem that affects 9 million people, both old and young and the Minister will take forward the work of the Commission on Loneliness, set up by the late Jo Cox. We look forward to working with the Minister on this.

And finally, the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine includes an article on e-cigarettes, which refers positively to the UK position emphasising our contribution to harm reduction and is well worth a read.

With best wishes,

Friday messages from 2012-2017 are available on GOV.UK

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