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Watchdog urges more action on obesity and alcohol misuse

By Lilian Anekwe

A health watchdog has called for more funding and resources to improve public health and reduce health inequalities, saying the Government's measure do not go far enough.

A report by the Healthcare Commission has found that though there have been improvements in overall life expectancy and mortality from the ‘big killers' – circulatory disease and cancer – these improvements have not been matched in tackling alcohol misuse and obesity.

Between 1996 and 2006 premature deaths in under 75s from cardiovascular disease fell 45% and those from cancer dropped by 15%.

But deaths associated with alcohol consumption have doubled in men – from 9.1 deaths per 100,00 of the population in 1991, to 18.3 in 2006. The rate has risen by 76% in women, from 5.0 per 100,00 to 8.8 over the same period.

‘If the trends continue, alcohol and obesity will have an increasingly profound effect on public health and service delivery', the Are We Choosing Health? report says.

The Healthcare Commission welcomed the focus given on improving public health in Lord Darzi's Next Stage Review, saying the report 'includes important lessons for the future'.

Anna Walker, the Healthcare Commission's chief executive, said: ‘The Government has begun to tackle the big killers but more needs to be done on some of the main issues affecting our health such as obesity, alcohol and smoking.

‘The Government should also apply lessons learned from its most effective programmes to ensure that the problems of obesity and alcohol misuse do not derail health improvement in the future. We do not want to see any reversal of the health gains that have been made.'

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation's PCT Network, agreed progress is needed to address the problems of obesity and alcohol misuse.

‘The solutions will need to be driven locally based on local priorities and circumstances. To make an impact on these challenging areas we will also need to ask searching questions about personal responsibility, what policy interventions are appropriate in a free society and what will have most impact on changing behaviour.'

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