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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 17:33 GMT
Marketing the healthy option

By Mark Easton
BBC Home editor

Marketing a lifestyle. Ad companies have been doing it for years.

Now Her Majesty's Government is to enter the fray.

As Tuesday's White Paper puts it: "A wide range of lifestyle choices are marketed to people, but health itself has not been marketed.

"Promoting health on the principles that commercial markets use - making it something people aspire to and making healthy choices enjoyable and convenient - will create a stronger demand for health and in turn influence industry to take more account of broader health issues in what they produce."

The very last person you want to tell you to give up the fags is John Reid.
Politicians' previous attempts to sell a healthy lifestyle have - as the document concedes - been "preachy, boring and too much like hard work".

The very last person you want to tell you to give up the fags is John Reid. The most effective is your best mate.

So the theme of today's public health strategy is out with worthy advice from on-high and in with practical advice from next door.

The document says "to be effective in influencing demand for health, marketing messages need to be given, received, believed, understood and acted on."

The messengers will be charities, employers, football clubs, teachers, voluntary groups, pop stars - anyone but politicians.

Politicians' role

There is a role for government, of course.

It is no surprise that Ministers want to secrete themselves and quietly pull the strings out of sight.
The Department of Health's "Big Conversation" on public health revealed that: "Government is expected - and trusted - to act on inequalities and on wider issues that impact on society.

"There is also a strong role for government in promoting social justice and tackling the wider causes of ill-health and inequality in health."

But it is a symptom of our cynical age, perhaps, that the key job of marketing health will be handed to an independent body.

In a country where large numbers of people tended to believe a maverick scientist rather than the Chief Medical Officer on MMR - with serious consequences for children's health - it is no surprise that Ministers want to secrete themselves and quietly pull the strings out of sight.

The ideas also fit in with what is emerging as a key theme for a Labour third term - enabling communities - getting local people to find solutions to their problems.

If it works, the public health message will pervade almost every aspect of our lives.

If it doesn't, politicians will be blamed for passing the buck.





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