General Election Manifesto Blueprint for a Healthier Nation

As a personal trainer in London I’m interested to see what the main political parties have to say about promoting the nation’s health. There’s a lot of talk about increased funding for the NHS, but very little mention of pro-actively improving the health of our population ie – preventing disease and illness in the first place.

Today I came across an organisation called the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH), and their 12 step blueprint for health, called ‘Start Well, Live Better’, looks like common sense to me. It’s their manifesto for the 2015 General Election, and they will lobby all parties to promote these policies.

The FPH is an alliance of three Royal Colleges of Physicians: London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Its president is Professor John Ashton, and its Local Board Member for London is Helen Walters. It’s vision is better mental & physical health & well-being for all.

Here are the 12 priorities identified by the FPH in its Start Well, Live Better manifesto:

1. Give all babies the best start in life

In the first 1,001 critical days of a baby’s life, its brain grows to 80% of the typical adult brain weight, and this early-stage brain development has a profound impact on that baby’s life-chances.  Healthy brain development requires good nutrition, as well as a safe and happy and loving environment.

2. Essential life-skills for children and young people

This includes relationship skills, sex education, and a range of other personal skills to equip young people for the real world.

3. Physical activity in schools

Reinstate a minimum of 2 hours of physical activity per week in all schools.

When I was at school, we were forced into doing certain sports whether we liked it or not, by games teachers more interested in humiliating the weakest kids rather than encouraging them. I hope things have improved since then.

4. Impose a 9pm watershed on TV advertising of foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

Children are very easily influenced by advertising, and this policy would help reduce the consumption of junk food and all the health consequences which flow from a poor diet.

5. Impose a 20% tax on sugary drinks

High-sugar fizzy drinks and energy drinks are a major contributor to our obesity epidemic, not to mention the growing rate of type 2 diabetes.

As a personal trainer I’m always advising my clients to avoid these drinks like the plague.

6. Minimum unit price for alcohol

Legislate for a minimum 50p per unit retail price, which would help reduce alcoholism, binge drinking, obesity, and a range of alcohol-related diseases.

7. Standardized tobacco packaging

A sixth of the UK population still smoke, a staggering statistic given the mountains of evidence showing the health risks of smoking: principally  lung cancer and heart disease and reduced immunity. Studies have shown that standardized plain packaging will reduce demand for cigarettes, and make them less attractive particularly to children.

8. A 20mph speed limit for vehicles in built-up areas.

This will reduce deaths and serious injury on our roads, encourage more walking and cycling, and reduce air-pollution.

9. Introduce a living wage

Low pay has many negative effects on physical and mental health. A living wage would help boost the well-being of the lowest paid in the UK.

10. Protect the NHS

The FPH believes that the principle of universal healthcare, free at the point of need, is a vital principle of the NHS which must be safeguarded.

As a personal trainer, I would add that rather than simply pouring more and more billions into the NHS every year, it would be better to ask: why is our nation so sick? The old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” applies here. It would be better to invest in health-promotion and disease-prevention rather than simply pouring more billions into dealing with the consequences of ill-health.

11. Encourage active transport

Build more infrastructure to encourage cycling and walking, and reap all the health benefits which result.

I would add that the government has taken the first tiny steps towards improving our cycle-infrastructure in London, but we have a long way to go before we reach the standards of Amsterdam or Munich, for example.

12. Promote renewable and zero-carbon energy

This makes sense on a global scale to tackle climate change and global warming, and on public health level to reduce air pollution which causes a range of respiratory diseases and other health problems, particularly here in London.

It would be great to see more electric vehicles in London. There are a small number of electric re-charging stations dotted around the capital, but we need far more, and government incentives to switch to an electric vehicle.

When I go out running with my personal training clients in London, I notice the poor air quality. This is one area which mayor Boris Johnson has neglected badly, suprising given his love of cycling in London.

I agree with pretty much all the 12 priorities which the FPH has identified. What do you think?

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London with over a decade of experience helping his London clients to get fit and healthy.