Updated: Sunday, 5th July 2020 @ 5:57am

Fresh approach needed to tackle unhealthy 'lifestyle' diseases, says Man Uni expert

Fresh approach needed to tackle unhealthy 'lifestyle' diseases, says Man Uni expert

| By Tommy Wilson

A new approach is needed to tackle ‘lifestyle’ diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, claims a Manchester University lecturer.

Dr Stanley Blue believes unhealthy social norms, like eating a takeaway while watching television, need tackling through public health interventions along the lines of the smoking ban, which has detached the notion of going to the pub for a drink and having a cigarette.

The 33-year-old helped produce a research paper, claiming that there needs to be less focus on efforts to change individual behaviour and more attention on breaking social habits and practices that are blindly leading us into bad health.

He told MM: “It’s not an easy fix, but the idea is that public health could be trying a different approach rather than trying to just focus on their health information.

“Rather than just trying to saturate people with information, they could look at doing more interventions that are targeted at pulling apart social habits and routines.

“Public health would be better to focus on the history of how we got to sitting in front of the TV on Friday night and eating takeaways, rather than exercising and cooking fresh meals at home.”

The social sciences lecturer has been working on the paper for two years with colleagues at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The inspiration for the report came from having a shared interest in wanting to affect and take a different approach to tackling the rise in ‘lifestyle’ diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes.

“In our article we suggest that if Public Health was to turn its attention to practices that make up people’s daily routines, then it would be more effective than just trying to educate people,” he said.

“There could be another approach that could be much more effective, and we suggest it is looking at these social habits and routines, and trying to break those and pull them apart.

“They’re [lifestyle diseases] very serious and very important for our society, for the future of the NHS and population health. There are other approaches that could have more of an impact.”

Evidence shows a spread of diseases linked to unhealthy behaviour, and the lecturer believes that the current healthy policy does not communicate that effectively enough.

“Current public health policy is dominated by the presumption that individuals are capable of making ‘better’ choices for themselves on the basis of information given to them by the government or other agencies,” he added.

“This does not account for the fact that practices like those of smoking and eating have histories of their own.

“Trying to get individuals to stop smoking or eat healthily overlooks the fact that these are fundamentally social practices. Public health policy will have to find the courage to break away from  its traditional mould if it is to stand a chance of confronting the grim reaper of lifestyle diseases.”

Image courtesy of Paul Townsend, with thanks.