To Hull and Back

Last week I had the complete joy (except for the awfulness that is the M6 and M62!) of heading over to Hull to speak at a gathering of Public Health and Public Sector people from across Yorkshire, The Humber and The East Riding, called “Minding the Gap”, hosted by the amazing Ian Copley. In my next blog, I will give the podcast of what I said and written piece, for those who prefer that format, about Population Health and the realities we are currently facing.

 

However, I thought it just worth reflecting on a really interesting lecture I heard by Prof Franco Bianchini from Hull University (https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/research/institutes/culture-place-and-policy-institute/culture-place-and-policy-institute.aspx) on the impact of Hull being European City of Culture 2017. It was amazing to see this little video, presented by the excellent Director of Public Health, Julia Weldon (https://www.yhphnetwork.co.uk/about-us/julia-weldon/), and to hear of so many wonderful, creative, life-giving, community-building initiatives that happened all over the City and the beautiful stories of people celebrating the history and many facets of this place. 

 

The sense of wellbeing and happiness in the City increased significantly during that year (not much of a surprise) and the injection of finance into Hull gave opportunity for some creative regeneration and fantastic projects. Unfortunately, since 2017, the overall sense of Wellbeing and happiness has now fallen to below what it was in the years preceding Hull as the City of Culture. What a shame! And interestingly, if you study other Cities that host Olympics, Commonwealth Games, or have other similar initiatives, you see the same pattern over and over. The hype wanes, the carnival moves on and what is left?

 

There is so much we can learn from this, if we want to. Firstly, if we only plan for an event and do not think about it as an agent of transformation for the future, then we risk sowing huge promise and then once the event finishes, things just go back to being the same old, breeding disappointment and disillusionment. This must be taken into account in the planning. Becoming a City of Culture gives the opportunity for a City to come together, not only for an event, but to turn the future of the city, releasing dreams of what it can become. This requires much wider ownership and community conversations about keeping the momentum and building on it. Secondly, leaders across the city need to own the future and hold true to the principles, especially once the funding is withdrawn. It’s really sad that the vast majority of schools have not felt able to continue the great initiatives in the creative arts or sports, which began and were having a great effect on children and young people’s physical and mental health, due to the pressures they feel around delivery of the curriculum. Surely there was an opportunity to reimagine the whole realm of what education might look like in the City of Hull, aligned to the values of the City and its hope for the future?

 

In the Jewish tradition, at certain points along their journey from Egypt to Israel, the people would build an ‘Ebenezer’. It was a pile of stones to mark a certain point on their journey that would help them remember what was past and what they were looking forward to. It was more than a monument. It was a stake in the ground which called to memory where they had come from, what they had been through but also opened up an altogether different future. My hope for Hull, is that 2017 City of Culture becomes an Ebenezer for the city, something they can look back on and say – “that’s when things really began to change, that’s when we celebrated our past but began to build a new future together, a city that really works for everyone and the environment we live in!” I fear, however, that the opposite will be true….a temporary flash in the pan and then back to the same old, same old……

 

I hope with all my heart that it isn’t too late for Hull to regain this momentum and despite the lack of funding (although this begs whole new questions about devolution) for the city to take hold of the promise of what could be. I also really hope that Coventry (the city of my birth) really hears and learns from the lessons of Hull and begins now to think of being the City of Culture 2021 to springboard into a new future for the city, rather than have yet another event that feels good in the moment, but does not bring the transformation of the City that is so desperately needed. Now is the time for Coventry to dream and to think creatively about what this opportunity really might become. 

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Obesity – Genetic or Environmental?

Obesity has become part of a serious blame culture. “Just eat less and exercise more”, seems to be the simplistic argument these days. Social media is full of ‘fat shaming’ and the public opinion has shifted much more towards it being people’s own fault if they are fat – “they should just make better choices and take more responsibility for themselves”. It makes sense right? People just need to be a whole lot less greedy and a whole lot more restrained…..Well – just for a minute, let’s suspend our judgements, put away our pointing fingers or indeed, our shame and let’s examine the evidence….and then maybe we can have a much better and kinder conversation about the obesity epidemic we’re in and what might need to change.

 

A few weeks ago, I listened to the excellent Prof Sandro Galea, Knox Professor of Epidemiology at Boston State University, give an excellent lecture on: “What Do Obesity, Opioids and Guns all Have in Common?” the answer: They are all really complex and hugely important! I am shamelessly going to use his slides from that lecture to explore the issue of obesity in this blog, which Sandro has kindly shared with me.

 


If we take any given population, let’s start by asking this question: What percentage of obesity is determined by genetics, compared to the environment? Go, on, give it a go – write a figure down, or make a mental note of what you currently presume!

 

 

 

 

In any give population, there will be a percentage of people who have a higher genetic risk of becoming obese. In the diagrams which follow, these, dark grey represents those with a high genetic risk.

 

 

 


 

There will be some people who will be obese, with or without a genetic risk. In the following diagrams, these people are represented in red/pink.

 

 


The environment is represented in green. everything that is not ‘genetic’ is considered to be environmental. This includes, air pollution, adverse childhood experiences, advertising, sugar in products, transportation, access to shops, types of shop available, family income, affordability of food, use of food banks, etc etc. The more green there is, the less healthy the environment represented.

 

So…….if we take a population with the same genetic risk factors and number of obese people, let’s see what happens to those people with a higher risk of becoming obese, when the environment is less than ideal, e.g. high stress, poor air quality, high index of deprivation, low educational opportunities, high unemployment, poor access to shops, poor transport links, high numbers of junk food outlets…….etc – here is the population in a poor environment and those with a genetic risk factor are marked with grey dots:

Look at what happens to the obesity rate in that population!! All of those with a genetic risk factor become obese! The odds are stacked against them, because their choices are significantly reduced!

But take the scenario, with the same population in an environment which is much more positive, where there is less sugar in foods, where there are more healthy opportunities for good eating and exercise, where there is no need for food banks because employment is high, jobs are well paid and the welfare state is functioning appropriately.

In this scenario – the odds are in favour of those genetically more likely to become obese – BIGTIME! Obesity rates are far less and overall the population is much more physically healthy. People who are genetically at risk of becoming obese have far less chance of actually becoming obese!

What was your answer to the percentage question at the start? It was a trick question! the worse your environment is, the more your genetics come into play! So, now there’s a complex argument about who is responsible for the environments in which we live and who creates an atmosphere of choice!

 

If we take the food industry to start with, just look at what has happened to the calorie intake of foods sold in fast food outlets over the last 20 years. If you want French Fries now, you’re eating triple the calories that you were 20 years ago, due to larger portion sizes – always upsold in McDonalds (and other like minded companies)!! TRIPLE the calories! Who’s fault is that?! A turkey sandwich, which some might consider a ‘healthy option’ is now packed with more than DOUBLE the calories that were in that same sandwich just 20 years ago! Do the maths! The way this has been allowed to happen is appalling. The government, so keen on not being a ‘nanny state’ have allowed a deregulated ‘nanny food industry’ to lovingly shove calories down our throats without most of us even realising! Prof Susan Jebb, one of the leading experts in this field, globally is really clear – if we taxed cakes and biscuits and made healthy food more affordable, we would be in half the mess we’re in.

 

The same is true of exercise, and so opportunities to exercise, created by culture and environment are really important:

If you look at how much the advertising industry is spending on obesogenic foods, or you examine where junk food cafes are placed (disproportionately higher in our most deprived communities); if you consider the profound effect of adverse childhood experiences on our eating habits or look at the affordability of health food for low income families, as shown by the food foundation, then you begin to see that this over simplistic argument that people ‘should just take more responsibility for their own health’ is total nonsense. We need to take an altogether more kind and considered view to what is an incredibly complex situation.

 

Sandro Galea talks powerfully about this principle: Small changes in ubiquitous causes may result in more substantial change in the health of populations than larger changes in rarer causes.

You can feed your goldfish the best food, ensure they swim their mile a day, help them practice mindfulness every morning and decrease the amount of time they spend on screens……but if you don’t care for the quality of the water – they will die!

 

Health inequality between the rich and poor in the UK is worsening. Health inequality between the north and south is worsening. Life expectancy overall and healthy life expectancy are both beginning to fall. Our mental health crisis is deepening. Now is not the time for loads more programmes that benefit the already healthy and make the inequalities even worse. Now is the time to ask some fundamentally deeper and more difficult questions about what we have built our society on, what the point of the government is and how, together, we might work for a future that is better for everyone. Unless we do so, the NHS continues to stare into an abyss, as indeed do all our public services.

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Cuts and More Cuts – a Disaster for our Population’s Health and Wellbeing

Tweet It amazes me, in this 24-hour news world that we live in, that a further £1 BILLION of cuts to our county councils doesn’t remain on the BBC front page until much past lunchtime! It feels a bit more important than some of the stories being picked by the editorial team instead!   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-45573921 [Continue Reading …]

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Let The Children Play!

Tweet In The Guardian today, there is an article in which the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is calling for more adventure playgrounds across the country, especially in our ‘poorer’ neighbourhoods. She believes we need more play schemes across the country for the long summer holidays which she argues are having a profoundly negative effect on [Continue Reading …]

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Population Health and the NHS 10 Year Plan

Tweet https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-10-year-plan   This is an excellent blog from Sir Chris Ham and Richard Murray at the Kingsfund and highlights some important issues that deserve real consideration and debate. Get a cup of tea, reflect on it and then join the discussion. Here are my reflections on it.   Improving population health and closing the [Continue Reading …]

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Health and Society – Part 3 – Can We Make a Difference?

Tweet On the 70th Birthday of the NHS, here is the 3rd and final part of this mini-vlog-series. In this one I look at how we can make some positive steps for our own health and wellbeing and explore the issues of choice and responsibility, whilst we also tackle health inequality and issues of social [Continue Reading …]

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Changing the Future of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Tweet Applying a Population Health Approach to Adverse Childhood Experiences   Adverse Childhood Experiences are one of our most important Population Health issues due to their long lasting impact on the physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing of a person and indeed the wider community. It is therefore really important that we apply a [Continue Reading …]

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Health and Society – Can We Make A Difference? Part 2 – politics

Tweet In the second of this (actually 3-part!) series, I’m looking at how politics and social movement are vital at changing the health and wellbeing of our society, communities and the environment we live in. Together We Can!         Share This:

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Four Circles of Population Health

Tweet In my previous blog in this series, I wrote about the ‘Pentagon Model’ which we have developed in Morecambe Bay to help us think about how we manage Population Health. The Pentagon approach actually forms one of four parts of some over-lapping circles, based on 4-Ps (Population Health Approach, Partnerships, Places, People Movement), which [Continue Reading …]

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Population Health – The Pentagon Approach

Tweet Here in Morecambe Bay, thanks especially to the excellent work of Marie Spencer, David Walker, Jane Mathieson, Hannah Maiden and Jacqui Thompson, we have together developed a way of thinking about population health, which we call the ‘Pentagon Approach’. It draws on learning over a number of years from Public Health England and the [Continue Reading …]

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