Public Health Reform – Our chance to be bold and brave

Written by: Irene Oldfather, Director of Strategy and Engagement, the ALLIANCE

Published: 15/04/2019

The Public Health Reform programme is an opportunity redefine how we look after the health of our population.

While six priority areas for action (this link will take you away from our website) have been set – it is worth reflecting on whether we are pushing forward the frontiers on a new agenda or taking an incremental approach that builds on what has happened to date?

This is a chance to be bold and brave.

A look around the globe would suggest that public health is inextricably linked to other major policy areas and so context is not only important but essential. UN Sustainable Development goals place a huge emphasis on big ticket issues directly relevant to our Public Health Reform in Scotland

Anyone who has seen the formidable 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden take politicians to task over climate change can be in no doubt of how young people see the linkages between health and land use between inequalities and food consumption between have and have nots – perhaps in a way in which to date, traditionalists have failed to acknowledge.

Silo working will not achieve the progress that it will be necessary to make and the setting up of the new body brings opportunities to put change and innovation at the heart of achievable outcomes.

Speaking in a language which people understand; moving from negatives to asset based approaches; engaging and enthusing our young people are all crucial to future success. Key to the actual message around public health is a communications strategy which captures the imagination.

In 2015 it was reported (this link will take you away from our website) that livestock farming contributes 3bn tonnes of CO2 while food demand is expected to rise 70% in coming decades. Therefore, there needs to be a change in the way we consume food. While not linked directly to public health, this is likely to lead to healthier diets. The Netherlands during its Presidency of the EU very visibly promoted a flexitarian approach to food and nutrition (this link will take you away from our website). If we are looking at getting people to change their behaviour we need to use arguments that capture people’s imagination.

Scotland has made some bold and brave decisions in the past. Banning smoking in public places, at one point unthinkable is an accepted norm which literally is savings lives. Campaigns around five a day fruit and vegetables for healthier eating, was unheard of when the Scottish Parliament came into being and is another great example of how we learned from our European neighbours in Sweden and Finland whose young people were well ahead of us in understanding the importance and implications on such a diet on health.

If we are to create a dynamism around this agenda, we will need to move beyond lecturing people on obesity to enlightening them about a diet that contributes to saving the planet.

The upcoming public health review is a chance to have your say on this important agenda. I look forward to hearing innovative and creative views that will allow us to be bold and brave again.

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