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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 4 January 2019

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Firstly, a very Happy New Year and I hope you had some time to relax over the Christmas break.

Consumer research says that early January is the best moment to catch people when they want to make changes to various aspects of their life. It also tells us that mid-January is when many people give up on their resolutions, so it is no surprise that this time of year is important in trying to help people sustain changes that improve their health.

Around 2.5 million adults are using e-cigarettes in England and vaping has helped thousands of people successfully quit, however around 44% of cigarette smokers still either wrongly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking or are not aware that vaping poses much lower risks to health. Last week, as part of the annual Smokefree ‘Health Harms’ campaign, PHE released a film which you can see below, showing the devastating harms caused by every cigarette smoked and how these can be avoided by switching to using an e-cigarette or other kind of quit aid. The most successful quit attempts are not driven by willpower alone but use a combination of stop smoking support approaches, so PHE’s Personal Quit Plan offers smokers a quick and easy way to find the right support for them to quit. More information on the free support and tools available can be found on the Smokefree website.

Children in the UK have already exceeded the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18 year old by the time they reach their tenth birthday. This figure is based on their total sugar consumption from the age of two and underpins our latest Change4Life campaign which launched on Wednesday. While intakes have declined slightly in recent years, our children are still consuming around eight excess sugar cubes daily. Supporting families to cut back on sugar consumption is part of Government’s plan to reduce childhood obesity and the campaign highlights how making simple, everyday swaps to products children eat and drink the most can make a big difference. PHE has not called for what the media has labelled a ‘pudding tax’, or for any other new taxes to be introduced. But we have reiterated the policy position set out in the Childhood Obesity Plan, which is that the Government will consider other policy levers, including fiscal measures, if the food industry does not make significant progress on reducing calories and sugar from their products.

Before Christmas PHE signed a memorandum of understanding with the Centre for Ageing Better which will see our two organisations work together on the Prime Minister’s ambition for everyone to have five extra years of healthy, independent life. Projects will include creating a consensus and positive narrative on healthy ageing and co-creating an evidence-based resource with recommendations on how to address midlife risk factors.

New research published yesterday in the Journal of Science outlines how genome sequencing can give results to teams responding to outbreaks in as little as one day, compared to weeks with previous technology. During the unusually large Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria in late 2018, scientists including some from PHE, used a new tool to rapidly test for different virus strains, enabling people to be protected faster and more effectively. This research was carried out by PHE and The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Germany, in collaboration with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Researchers were able to identify that strains of Lassa fever samples taken from multiple human cases were not all closely related, suggesting that there was not a single source of the virus that then spread from person to person. Importantly this innovative work could be applied to previously unknown pathogens, which could prove vital in the event of a pandemic when the causative agent has not been identified.

My warmest congratulations go to Professor Maggie Rae, who has been elected as the next president of the Faculty of Public Health in succession to Professor John Middleton. The Faculty is a membership organisation for nearly 4,000 public health professionals across the UK and around the world and Maggie, who is currently the Faculty registrar, takes on the role from July and we look forward to working with her. I would also like to thank and recognise John for his sterling leadership of the Faculty during his presidency in pursuit of their mission to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities and national populations.

And finally, PHE colleagues were among those honoured this New Year. Our Director of Marketing Sheila Mitchell received a CBE for services to public health and Wendy Nicholson, our national lead for children, young people and families received an MBE for services to nursing for children and young people. Congratulations to both on this thoroughly deserved and special recognition.

Best wishes


Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK

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