Government efforts to tackle obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted
diseases will fail unless prevention, not cure, is given priority, a report says.
Rates of obesity are rising in Britain
Ministers must look at practical measures to help people stay healthy, according to the King's Fund.
The call follows a consultation by the government to ask what measures could be taken to improve public health.
A White Paper will be published in the summer, using the research findings.
Currently one in four men and one in five women are classed as obese in the UK - but experts think 40% of the nation could be obese within a generation.
Smoking is responsible for 120,000 premature deaths a year - and it is estimated there are more than 13 million smokers in the UK.
Sexually transmitted diseases have also increased dramatically in recent
years, especially among young people.
On Thursday, the King's Fund report - entitled Prevention Rather Than Cure: Making the case for choosing health - said the government consultation would have little impact unless there was a move away from the preoccupation with health services focused on treating illness.
The King's Fund, a charitable foundation working for better health, criticised ministers for concentrating on waiting lists and targets.
It called for a "broader approach" and cited ideas such as creating public health leaders, similar to health mayors in some European cities, as well as health clubs where people could get information and advice on how to stay fit and well.
The report said there should be new incentives to encourage health
professionals to give higher priority to preventing ill health as well as reducing
inequalities between rich and poor.
The King's Fund also launched a programme - Putting Health
First - to come up with ways the government can tackle public health issues.
The report's author Anna Coote, King's Fund health policy director, said: "There
are still powerful disincentives for governments to focus on health - as
distinct from health services.
"The NHS has become a national icon. It is tempting for politicians to try to
'save' it, without looking very hard at ways of preventing illness."
Ms Coote said people did not only care about NHS waiting times and said the public had a sophisticated understanding of the causes of illness and would "rather choose health than health care".