25 November 2014 17:00

More public health interventions, along the lines of the smoking ban, are needed to tackle Britain's devastating toll of ‘lifestyle’ diseases according to research.

The paper published in Critical Public Health is by Dr Stanley Blue at the University of Manchester and Professor Elizabeth Shove of Lancaster University, with Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health and Chris Carmona, from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

It claims that there needs to be a shift in public health policy, with less focus on efforts to change individual behaviour and more attention on breaking social habits and practices that are leading us into bad health.

The authors say new ideas are needed to tackle non-communicable – or ‘lifestyle’ diseases – such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes. They explain how some social practices reinforce each other, such as getting a takeaway and watching TV on a Friday night, whereas others, such as drinking a bottle of wine at home or going to the gym, compete for time in our busy days.

Professor Elizabeth Shove said: “Our research underpins a significantly new approach to public health which recognises that unhealthy practices like smoking have a social and cultural history: they are not simply outcomes of individual behaviour and choice. This matters in that public health policy can and should go beyond a focus on individual behaviour and intervene directly in the making and shaping of such practices.”

The authors cite the smoking ban as an example of a measure that effectively decoupled the relationship between going out for a meal or a drink and having a cigarette.

A similar approach, with social practice at the heart of public health policy, could be taken to eating and exercise, rather than traditional methods which rely on persuading people to make the 'right' decision by going to the gym or eating their five a day – and which treat such decisions as matters of personal choice.

'Theories of practice and public health: understanding (un)healthy practices' is published in Critical Public Health and written by: Dr Stanley Blue, lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, The University of Manchester; Prof Elizabeth Shove, Director of the DEMAND research centre and Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University; Chris Carmona, Public Health Analyst at NICE and Prof Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health at NICE.