Why we shouldn’t just focus on ‘individual choices’ when it comes to public health

On Monday, 5 November 2018, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock stated at a health conference that people must take more responsibility for managing their own health as he launched the latest NHS long-term strategy.

Simon Capewell, Professor of Public Health and Policy at the University, believes the minister was right to emphasise the need for effective prevention of epidemics such as obesity, diabetes and dementia. But adds:

“We must recognise the huge power of our lived environment, and avoid naively just focusing on ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘individual choices’. People do not ‘choose’ obesity or diabetes or cancer. They have just been overwhelmed by a toxic environment.

“The big drop in the last decade in the number of Britons who smoke showed that firm, consistent government action was the best way to boost public health.

“Mr Hancock can celebrate previous health successes with tobacco control. That success was built not on victim blaming, but on strong tax and regulation policies to reduce the ‘three As’ of tobacco affordability, availability and acceptability.

“Ministers need to take similarly tough action now against the production of the commodities which harm people’s ill health, including junk food, cheap booze and fixed-odds betting terminals.”

Comment originally published by The Guardian and can be found here.

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