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Choosing Health: making healthy choices easier

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser

The long-awaited White Paper on public health, Choosing Health, has been published and is currently receiving widespread media coverage. Choosing Health sets out the government agenda on public health for the next 10 years. (But don't forget that there is to be a general election in Spring 2005, and who knows what might happen then?) But this must not deter all nurses from being interested in Choosing Health. Energetic action will be demanded of them. The following is a brief look at the document.
Children: The government is taking the health of our children very seriously indeed. We must do all that we can to start building the school nurse resource if we are to have any hope of achieving what Choosing Health proposes. The main thrust of the child component of Choosing Health is to support the development of a healthy framework for life. The following will be put in place:

  • New support and advice will be available to the most disadvantaged children and their parents.
  • Services will become integrated through children's trust arrangements.
  • Good health will underpin all school lessons, sport, meals, personal support and travel arrangements.
  • Physical activity will be promoted.
  • Children will be encouraged to understand healthy patterns of behaviour.

The prime objectives are to halve child poverty by 2010 and to tackle childhood obesity. These objectives, plus generally improving the health and wellbeing of all children, will be achieved through a comprehensive programme that focuses on: the assessment of the child's and family health; health promotion; childhood screening; immunisations; early interventions to address needs; and safeguarding children from harm.
Smoking: England has decided not to follow the Scottish and Irish line (complete ban), but instead to allow pubs that do not serve prepared food to decide for themselves. Private clubs will also be able to choose whether their premises are to be smoke-free or smoke-filled! An invigorated campaign will aim to motivate smokers to seek help to enable them to quit. Access to "Stop Smoking Services" will be encouraged with better information made available.
Sexual health: There will be a new national campaign targeted at younger people to raise their awareness of the dangers of unprotected sex in the hope that the current alarming rate of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies can be reduced.
Obesity: People will be informed of the action they need to take to reduce their weight.
Alcohol: Government departments are working with the Portman Group to help reduce binge drinking.
Other: People will take effective action only if they hear a clear and simple health message. The drive is on to encourage people to eat far more fresh fruit and vegetables, and efforts will be made to make them affordable and accessible to the poorest people in our communities.
From 2006, friendly, approachable and supportive NHS-accredited health trainers will be available locally to guide and support individuals to become healthier through making positive changes to their lifestyle.
Choosing Health is the beginning of a long journey heading, we hope, towards a more healthy, less unequal and fitter, less dependent society. At long last the NHS is set to become a health-promoting service as much as one that treats you when you're ill. The aims are ambitious, but it is so refreshing to read about the imaginative ideas to help those who are most in need by adapting to their particular problems.
Choosing Health deserves the full support of all nurses - after all, 500,000 nurses could, if absolutely determined, make one hell of a difference to the nation's health.