The anti-ageing message

Last week - and probably timed to coincide with the focus on new year's resolutions - a leading UK newspaper ran a story on it's front  page with the title - "Experts suggest Simple Steps to Living Longer".

The  item was about the newly published findings from  the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). From the headlines I was expecting new ideas. Hope for change. However, what we had was a disappointing, hopelessly simplistic and at times patronising rehash of some very old approaches to health education.  In fact Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum referred to the report as "a bit of a gimmick...with nothing new that hasn't been  pushed to councils for the last 30 years".

So what's been said and why does it disappoint?

NICE - a government watch dog - has set 4 golden rules for living a longer life -
  • Cut down/quit smoking
  • Cut down/quit alcohol
  • Eat less
  • Exercise more
Of course no one would disagree with any of that. But come on! This message has been around at least since the 1980s and what do we have to show for it?  Ever increasing rates of cancer and chronic conditions such as obesity, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease; all at colossal costs to the health service. To say nothing about the sum total of misery that these conditions cause. Obviously somethings not working.

I support a preventative approach. However, for me the main problem lies with both the main thrust and the lack of specifics in the dietary advice. With advances in modern nutritional thinking and cellular biology many  of us have moved on and need intelligent guidance about the glycaemic index and it's inter-play with fats and dense carbohydrates. Not tired repackaged views that obviously haven't worked.  It's almost shocking that the Department of Health appears not to have updated it's views in this area and continues to recommend a diet that is high in dense carbohydrates with generalised advice about fats. Meanwhile we have thousands of patients with type 2 Diabetes, many of whom have had to resort to Insulin in order to control their condition. However, they continue to consume cereal, bread, potato, rice and pasta and have problems with obesity!

The other part of the problem might be a lack of support structures. Paul Lincoln - CEO of the UK Health Forum - has stated that "After Christmas and New Year many of us are determined to drink less, quit smoking, do more exercise or eat healthier. But it becomes overwhelming and our resolve crumbles." Does anyone out there recognise this in themselves?

NICE has stated that, with an emphasis on socially deprived areas, it wants councils to provide tax payers money to fund taylor-made health education services to local communities. No one - especially not anyone who has been at the sharp end of providing health education in primary health care - would argue against a properly funded government initiative that seeks to improve the health of the nation. However, within the context of swinging cuts to both the health service and local councils, how is all of this to be achieved?

I worry that, as ever -  and  within an ever decreasing budget with fewer and fewer staff - the onus will be on cash strapped councils and overworked health care professionals to come up with the goods and create this so called  "culture of health".

From where I'm standing, in the face of such pressing and intractable public health concerns,  the government needs to revisit it's dietary advice. It also has to come up with extra funding to tackle the issues.

I, for one, will be writing to my MP asking him to put a question to the minister about the role of government in funding this initiative. If you are concerned I urge you to do the same. If enough people voice their concerns then this will make a bigger impact and the government will be forced to listen.

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