The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not. Mark Twain
There aren’t many days in the year when the agendas of health and local government fit neatly together. In the car driving to a meeting, I heard a news item on the radio saying the biggest shake-up in a generation on how our public health system is managed is about to happen.
Local authorities are taking back the management of public health after nearly 40 years. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and heard the same thing repeated.
I’m not sure how the public would view this (or if they’d even care…) and I’d be interested to get your comments on this issue, but one thing is for sure - we have an ever burgeoning set of public health issues that need to be addressed (obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, poor dental hygiene to name but a few.) Some of these are caused by government policy over the years and others have always been there (caused by us) in one guise or another!
Every time something gets out of tolerable control limits, we have to try a different approach and this idea seems as good as any other. For local government is much closer to the ground and more integrated into the daily lives of people. With a bit of clever planning, councils could get the message out about healthy living without tub thumping or being obtrusive, using a broad range of existing services to subtly change the way we do things.
My heart sank a bit, though, when I did a bit more research on the topic and learned that “councils will be judged against a range of measures, including reducing the number of falls in older people and increasing breastfeeding rates, as well as factors such as truancy, air pollution, domestic violence and homelessness. Data will be collected on more than 60 factors that influence health, and a ‘Health Premium’ incentive scheme would see the most successful councils given extra funds.” (Source the Telegraph 23/01).
We need some creative solutions on how to deal with deeply ingrained public health issues. Some of the most imaginative and effective I’ve ever seen are collaborations between artists and young people to create exhibitions and public arts highlighting the issues in a seemingly light-hearted way. If we push the boundaries still further, maybe cohorts of traffic wardens and park rangers could have an impact - if we only gave a little time to work out how!
To get this right, so we don’t change the whole structure again in 40 years time (if not before), time should be spent thinking differently. Creative planning and thinking should happen before action. Take food as an example: Just as Italy developed the slow food movement in reaction to fast food, we should look to how innovations in food consumption can make a subtle difference to our understanding of the food chain (Many people experience food from a plastic container and are disconnected from its production.) We have our own examples to refer to. Incredible Edible Todmorden is a fabulous community project in West Yorkshire run by the whole town including businesses and schools, to grow an array of vegetable patches, flower beds and herb gardens all of which are used by the people who live in the town.
Thank goodness this project shows we have progressed since Winifred Holtby’s book South Riding, the fictional account of a Yorkshire Council with public health in its remit, was published in 1934.
Looking at the quote at the top of the blog, let’s do something we’d rather do, than rather not!