A new study has found that without significant national action 250,000 people will die from preventable conditions by 2025, and even more people will have the quality of their lives drastically reduced.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set targets for a 25% reduction in early deaths from common long-term conditions between 2010 and 2025. The Richmond Group-funded study forecasts that without action the UK will miss this target, but that coordinated action could save lives above and beyond the WHO target and prevent a total of 1.12 million years lived with disability (YLD) by 2025.
The authors of the study identified 12 potential national policy interventions that could help significantly reduce both deaths and disability caused by the most prevalent long-term health conditions – including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis and dementia – by addressing the key preventable health risks of smoking, harmful alcohol consumption, poor diet and physical inactivity.
Modelling four of these possible interventions in more depth, the study finds that many lives could be saved or improved over a 10-year period if they were implemented. In particular, it shows:
• 26,000 fewer deaths if food was reformulated to reduce salt, sugar and portion size.
• 2450 fewer deaths from an increase in tobacco tax.• 98,000 years lived with disability avoided if physical activity support was delivered through GP surgeries.
• 86,000 years lived with disability avoided if alcohol marketing was further restricted.
Based on the findings of the study, the Richmond Group are calling for a bold new vision which looks beyond the unambitious WHO targets and calls for Government, public services, businesses and charities to work together to find and enact solutions which can improve the physical and mental health of thousands of people for the better.
Commenting on the report, Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK said: “Poor diets and low levels of physical activity are fuelling the rise in serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease that we are currently seeing. These conditions can cause devastating and debilitating complications and ultimately early death.
”We live in an environment where making sustained healthy choices can be extremely difficult, but this study demonstrates again that strong and far reaching measures will lead to people living healthier and longer lives. For the sake of our nation’s health and the future sustainability of the health service, it's essential that we have a national conversation about the measures we need to put in place to not just save lives but to improve their quality too.
”Lead report author Dr Peter Scarborough said: “In recent years we have seen great improvements in cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic disease rates thanks both to improvements in treatment and healthier lifestyle choices such as fewer people smoking. However, we have also seen worrying increases in obesity levels and type 2 diabetes, and there is much more that we could achieve to improve population diets and physical activity levels. This report shows how maintaining a strong focus on public health – which has led to important breakthroughs like salt reduction in processed foods, banning smoking in public places and the introduction of front-of-pack food labelling over the last fifteen years – will result in us nearly achieving the WHO targets for premature mortality by 2025. But to achieve these targets we need to be even bolder and increase our efforts to improve public health and make healthy choices easy choices.”
The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of over 30 leading national health charities, campaign groups, and Royal Medical Colleges, including Diabetes UK, has responded to the Richmond Group’s report. They said in a joint statement:“Being obese increases the risk of serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and common cancers; these conditions in turn are associated with an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression. As well as being personally devastating for all those involved, they also place a huge financial burden on the NHS and society.
“We live in an environment where everyday processed food and drink is packed full of added sugar, salt and saturated fats, which makes it extremely difficult for the public to make the right choices when it comes to diet and to eat healthy foods. This is why we need the Government to publish and implement an effective Childhood Obesity Strategy as soon as possible.
“This must include challenging targets, that are backed by regulation, for the food and drinks industry to make their products healthier by reducing the sugar, salt and saturated fat content, as well as restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy products.
“The launch of today’s Living Longer, Living Well report from the Richmond Group shows that this is the right approach as it would dramatically improve people’s lives and lead to fewer disabilities and early deaths.”