Research from Professor Harry Rutter in the Department of Social & Policy Sciences has helped to inform the latest Chief Medical Officer’s annual report, published at the end of December 2018.

The report, which attracted widespread media attention in particular in relation to work by Professor Rutter and colleagues relating to tax on unhealthy foods, calls on a more unified approach to tackle growing health challenges in the UK.

In it, Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies outlines how we know as a nation that we need to be healthier, yet the reality remains that we live within environments in which the simplest and most convenient options tend to be unhealthy. Currently, 50% of chronic diseases and 40% of cancers would be preventable if we were more effectively to tackle risks including unhealthy diets, smoking, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption and air pollution.

By focusing on the underlying cause of diseases, it suggests we need to identify clear interventions and innovations to make an impact, such as reducing the amount of sugar and salt in our daily foods and designing our towns and cities to support everyday physical activity such as walking and cycling.

This approach, the report authors argue, will support the ambition of healthy life expectancy to increase by five years for all, with a halving of the the gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived communities.

Professor Dame Sally Davies explained: “A more equal, healthier society is within our grasp but we need to be brave, bold and seize the moment.

“Health is our main asset as a nation - a healthier population translates to a healthier economy. By repositioning health and reshaping our environment, we can make it easier to live well for longer and reduce the gap in health inequalities between the richest and poorest in our society.

“We can and should make our environment fairer and healthier for all.”

Professor Harry Rutter, who in 2018 became Professor of Public Health within our Department of Social & Policy Sciences, and co-authored the section of the report focusing on changing behaviours, added: “Our core message is that there are major opportunities to achieve meaningful improvements in public health through creating healthy physical, economic, social and commercial environments.

“The term ‘behaviour change’ is often thought to carry an implication that the onus for healthy behaviour falls on us as individuals. But that interpretation fails to take account of the fact that our actions are profoundly shaped by the contexts within which we live our lives, so it is also important for policymakers, businesses, and others to change their behaviour, and that of their organisations, to reshape those environments in ways that promote health.”