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The Prevention Green Paper: A chance to turn talk into action

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A mother, father and daughter walking together and laughing.

The Government has published a Prevention Green Paper setting out how it plans to embed the principle ‘prevention is better than cure’ across wider society. PHE’s Chief Executive Duncan Selbie discusses what this could mean for the public’s health.

Aiming for quality, not just quantity

The Green Paper ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ offers the next opportunity to further galvanise a shift of focus from cure to prevention.

For decades Government and the NHS have prioritised caring for us when we are sick. This Green Paper signifies a shift from considering how long people live as being important, to an even more important measure being how long people live in good health.

Currently, affluent people are enjoying 19 more years in good health than those who are poor. This is not okay and is not inevitable. And whilst this Green Paper cannot deliver the entire 5 extra years of healthy, independent life the Government wants to achieve by 2035, the measures within it would make a positive difference.

Making the healthier choice the easier choice

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges facing our country – competing with tobacco for the leading cause of premature death.

The Government is committing to further actions in the Green Paper. This includes building upon actions within Chapters 1 and 2 of the Childhood Obesity Plan as well as publishing a third chapter that will aim to tackle the root causes of obesity.

The opportunity is to support families by making the healthier choice the easier choice. This is why the reduction and reformulation work that PHE oversees on behalf of Government is so critical. The Green Paper will see this work extend further into baby food, helping parents to make the healthy choice for their children.

A PHE survey published last year shows around 9 in 10 people support the work Government is doing with the food industry to make food healthier. The commitment, leadership and creativity already shown by some companies proves that it is possible to drive healthier consumption while staying competitive. But there needs to be further and quicker action from everyone. The Green Paper can help us to achieve this.

Seizing the opportunity

Prevention needs to be at the forefront of all national and local policies, weaved into plans for everything from health and social care to town planning, housing and transport.

Taken together with the Secretary of State’s prevention vision and the NHS Long Term Plan, this Green Paper acknowledges prevention is everyone’s responsibility, from the NHS to employers, schools, local authorities and individuals.

The Green Paper makes a real commitment to helping us all to lead healthier lives. We hope its ambition to place prevention at the heart of all policies will be fully reflected in the spending review decisions.

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  1. Comment by Andrew Holbrook posted on

    I really hope to see the Eat Lancet Report, UN Research, IPCC research etc taken seriously by Public Health England. It has been predicted that many lives could be saved if we were to eat more flexitarian and plant based diets. Now that we have a large evidence base we can not afford to waste time. We are about to wipe 1 million species off the planet... largely due to what we are eating.

    Public Health England could and should be doing more to educate the general public on the links between what we eat and the environment. The British Dietetic Association should be supported to get their One Blue Dot Campaign out to a wider audience.

  2. Comment by Graham Morgan posted on

    An excellent step forward. "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass. There is an urgent need for Health and Education to come together in schools for their simultaneous benefit.

    We need to raise healthier, happier and smarter children.

    Evolve, the multi-award winning social enterprise have signposted a way forward. Project HERO (Health Engagement: Real Outcomes), supports the physical, emotional and cognitive health of children while improving attendance, behaviour and attainment.

    Recognised by RSPH, GSTF, Unltd and Many others this innovative, upstream preventative intervention meets exactly the challenge outlined in this document.

  3. Comment by Dr Michael C Watson posted on

    The need for a health strategy that unites the country.

    We welcome the publication of the government’s green paper on preventing ill health as we are now a step closer to having a health strategy that is urgently needed to tackle pressing public health issues. These include accidents, alcohol misuse, mental health, obesity, smoking and the ubiquitous problem of inequality. We are aware that with the current changes in government the strategy may be very different to this consultation document. However, we hope that the final strategy can be produced as quickly as possible before the end of the year and designed to minimize disparities and help to unite the country.

  4. Comment by Mark Jopling LBG posted on

    The Title of this Green Paper is "Lets turn talk into action".

    The Green Paper uses the wisdom from Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK government (2017): "If physical activity were a drug, we’d talk about it as a miracle cure"

    Yet in 2019 some investors and developers still take a punt on trying to build on playing fields, relying on outspending Councils and NGOs and wearing down communities to access the abnormal margins available if green space is converted to building plots. It is time that all playing fields are sacrosanct and protected by CPOs to avoid any developers "hope value".