A review of government policies tackling smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol use in England.
- Smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol use are leading risk factors driving the UK’s high burden of preventable ill health and premature mortality. All are socioeconomically patterned and contribute significantly to widening health inequalities.
- This report summarises recent trends for each of these risk factors and reviews national-level policies for England introduced or proposed by the UK government in England between 2016 and 2021 to address them. Based on our review, it assesses the government’s recent policy position and point towards policy priorities for the future.
- Population-level interventions that impact everyone and rely on non-conscious processes are most likely to be both effective and equitable in tackling major risk factors for ill health. Yet recent government policies implemented in England have largely focused on providing information and services designed to change individual behaviour.
- As well as relying heavily on policies that promote individual behaviour change, the strength of the government’s approach has been uneven for the leading risk factors, and decision making across departments has been disjointed. Action to tackle harmful alcohol use in England has been particularly weak.
- To reduce exposure to risk factors and tackle inequalities, government will need to deploy multiple policy approaches that address the complex system of influences shaping people’s behaviour.
- Population-level interventions that are less reliant on individual agency and aim to alter the environments in which people live should form the backbone of strategies to address smoking, alcohol use, poor diet and physical inactivity. These interventions need to be implemented alongside individual-level policies supporting those most in need. The strong role played by corporations in shaping environments and influencing individual behaviour must also be recognised and addressed in a consistent way through government policy.
- The costs of government inaction on the leading risk factors driving ill health are clear. As the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to build greater resilience against future shocks, now is the time to act.
The Health Foundation: Addressing the leading risk factors for ill health (February 2022) https://www.health.org.uk/publications/reports/addressing-the-leading-risk-factors-for-ill-health
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