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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 15:49 GMT
Report urges public health drive
Women smoking
Smoking is a major cause of ill health
Everybody in Britain has a role to play in improving the nation's health, a major report says.

Derek Wanless, a former chief executive of NatWest, says the government, businesses and individuals need "to play their part".

His long-awaited report says ministers should consider a range of options for improving people's health.

These include a tax on fatty foods, a ban on smoking in public places and subsidising gym memberships.

Health threat

Mr Wanless has shied away from making any firm recommendations. However, he has urged the government to act quickly to tackle "threats to our future health such as smoking, obesity and health inequalities".

Unhealthy Britain
One in five adults is obese
One in four men and one in six women drink more alcohol than they should
Most adults do not exercise often enough
Just one in four eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

"After many years of reviews and government policy documents, with little change on the ground, the key challenge now is delivery and implementation, not further discussion," his report says.

Mr Wanless said a drive to improve public health would help turn the NHS "from a national sickness service, which treats disease, to a national health service, which focuses on preventing it".

He believes improving the health of the nation could save the NHS billions of pounds in the years ahead.

The 221-page report called Securing good health for the whole population, which was commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown, outlines a range of options available to the government.

It calls for clear targets for tackling the causes of ill-health, such as smoking and obesity.

It urges ministers to consider introducing a tax on fatty foods to deter people from eating them.

The options open to ministers
A tax on fatty foods
A public smoking ban
Subsidising gym memberships
Higher taxes on cigarettes
Encourage industry to reduce salt levels in food

"Although the impact on any individual of a 'fat tax' is likely to be modest, over time and across the whole population, the health gains may be significant," it says.

It suggests ministers should look again at the issue of smoking in public places. The government has so far refused to follow the example of Ireland, which is introducing a ban.

"Studies estimate that a workplace smoking ban in England might reduce smoking prevalence by around 4 percentage points - equivalent to a reduction from the present 27% prevalence rate to 23%," it says.

But the report also emphasises that individuals must take responsibility for improving their own health by exercising more, for instance.

This is the second major report Mr Wanless has produced for the government.

His first report looked at the cost of running the NHS. He concluded that a massive injection of cash is needed over the next 20 years to meet patient demand.

His findings prompted the government to increase national insurance rates and spend billions more on the NHS.

'Wake-up call'

Health Secretary John Reid said: "I will publish a White Paper on the way forward later this year. Derek's report is an important contribution to that debate."

Chancellor Gordon Brown said: "Everyone has a role to play in the improvement of our public health - employers, the public services, communities and individuals as well as the government - and we must all now consider the recommendations he makes."

Shadow Health Secretary Tim Yeo said: "Last summer, the Conservative Party called for a more joined-up approach to tackle the country's public health problems. We hope that this will now happen."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said: "It is now up to the government to deliver."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association said: "It is now time for the government to stop talking and start tackling the issues."

The BBC's Karen Allen
"The emphasis is on giving people the facts so that they can decide"

Improving the health of workers
25 Feb 04  |  Health
Profile: Derek Wanless
25 Feb 04  |  Business
Big boost for the NHS
15 Jul 02  |  Health
The Wanless NHS report
27 Nov 01  |  Health


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