Thursday, 20 October 2016

Who wins: the tortoise or the hare in the race for health benefits?

Posted by Liane Azevedo, Fuse staff member and Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health, Teesside University

At the 63rd American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Boston, USA this year, an interesting debate took place which was titled ‘Who Wins: the Tortoise or the Hare?'. The debate discussed the latest research findings on a hot topic in physical activity research: what is better for your health; high intensity exercise or reducing sedentary behaviour in favour of light to moderate exercise? I was expecting a heated debate; however, the session was quite balanced with both sides presenting the pros and cons of their approach, followed by a talk on the middle ground by Tim Church suggesting that the best is exercise in moderation (the benefits of regular moderate-intensity exercise).

Let’s start with the arguments for reducing sedentary behaviour. The sedentary behaviour ‘defence’ was presented by Genevieve Healy from the University of Queensland. She talked about a study which showed that a reduction in sitting, in favour of more standing or stepping, could both promote cardio-metabolic benefits (concerning heart disease and metabolic disorders such as diabetes) to improvements in glucose and lipid metabolism (the synthesis and breakdown of glucose and fatty acids). Similar results were shown in other presentations at the conference with a number of studies also showing that interrupted sitting with walking (rather than just standing) can improve insulin response, resting blood pressure and lipid concentration. Moreover, Genevieve provided a number of examples of interventions for the workplace and for older populations, such as Small Steps, Stand Up For Health and Stand Up Australia, which have all shown to be effective

I presented evidence of this argument myself at the conference in a poster about a systematic review which we conducted on sedentary behaviour interventions for children. We found that sedentary interventions are mostly ineffective to reduce BMI (body mass index) in a mixed-weight population but can be effective for treatment of an overweight or obese population.

In the case of sedentary behaviour major questions still remain, for instance, are the risks of sedentary behaviour for cardiovascular diseases independent of physical activity? In other words, if you have a job like mine that requires you to sit for long hours and you try to compensate for this behaviour at the end of the day by doing 30-40 mins of moderate to vigorous physical activity, does this mean that you still have the same cardiovascular disease risks as, for instance, someone who does not exercise? The answer appears to be no; the risk seems lower (phew … ). However, the data in the literature is still contradictory. But it was interesting to see well known scientists in the field like Charles Matthews recognising that these behaviours might not be as independent of each other as it was originally thought when it relates to health risks.

The case for the opposite argument - that high intensity exercise is more important for your health - was made by Professor Ulrik Wisløff from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He presented a number of studies which showed the additional benefits of vigorous activity compared to moderate or total physical activity on a number of health indicators, such as all-cause mortality, improvement of maximum aerobic capacity and in endothelial (the inner lining of blood vessels) function, and as an effective treatment of arterial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) in unhealthy patients.

The audience questioned Professor Wisløff about the risk of injury when doing high intensity exercise, how to translate these findings into physical activity guidelines, and the long term sustainability of this type of exercise. Wisløff said that in their studies there were no report of injuries, but admitted that long term sustainability still needs to be investigated. A starting point for demonstrating the feasibility of high intensity exercise in a real-life setting can be found in the study completed by Dr Kathryn Weston at Teesside University. In the study she investigated the effect of a school-based high-intensity interval training on cardio-metabolic health. She found that the high intensity exercise did not only improve some cardio-metabolic parameters but was also delivered as intended.

Therefore, I would say that the answer to the question ‘who wins the tortoise or the hare?’ is that both are winners. For some people high intensity exercise can be the most exciting way to exercise, while for others just the substitution of sedentary to light and moderate is the suitable (also it doesn’t need to be one or the other). The most important point is to choose something that will encourage you to do physical activity, because the health benefit is there for both.

Acknowledgment: Liane Azevedo would like to thank Fuse and Teesside University for the support to attend this Conference.

Photo attribution: “Image from page 216 of "St. Nicholas [serial]" (1873)” by Internet Archive Book Images via

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Bridging the gap between (mental) health services and needs: negotiating power and political values

Guest post by Dr Angus Forsyth, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, Northumbria University

As Monday was World Mental Health day, there will be familiar messages in the media about the barriers faced by people with mental health problems when seeking appropriate care and treatment. These include (but are not limited to) the difficulties that children and young people face in accessing local services, not to mention specialist services, such as support for young people who may experience eating disorders. For adults the suicide rate has increased, and there are more and more pressures on crisis services and in-patient beds. As overall funding within the NHS is further reduced, mental health services face additional financial cuts as their funding is diverted to other clinical groups whose needs have been identified as more of a priority. 
Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) battled depression in Coronation Street

As if lack of access to mental health services is not problematic enough, people with mental health problems are also more predisposed to physical health disorders due to the combined effects of certain medications, lifestyle factors, such as smoking and lack of exercise, contributing to obesity and other metabolic disorders. This contributes to early mortality for people with long standing mental health diagnosis such as schizophrenia, having a reduced lifespan of 20 years. Despite these inequalities the Department of Health’s guidance (2011) recommended parity of esteem for people with mental health problems to have the same level of access to services as those with physical illnesses. And even this recommendation has yet to be achieved. 

On the positive side, there has been a relative increase in coverage of mental health related issues within the media and society, either through celebrities disclosing personal issues, storylines in popular TV dramas; magazines, and social media. However, there still persists a stigma associated with the experience of mental ill-health, for example that people with Schizophrenia are unpredictable and predisposed to violence (Houses of Parliament 2015).

Whilst fear and lack of understanding are factors that maintain stigmatising beliefs and attitudes, power inequalities are also evident when exploring the above barriers to meaningful services. These power imbalances can lead to the development of oppressive social systems and organisational practices where the exercise of authority or power can lead to the marginalisation of specific groups. An example of this is the implementation of government policy, for example the reduction of resources and the subsequent allocation of funding by commissioning agencies (as servants of government), can result in further disadvantaging of citizens as in the case of young people attempting to access mental health care. In the majority of these cases, care can only meaningfully be accessed when there is a serious risk to self and others and is provided under the legislative procedures of the mental health act and in locations far from the individual’s home. This example illustrates how healthcare is provided in an oppressive system.

This brief summary of the challenges in accessing comprehensive care and resources that are available to people with mental health issues highlight that as the expression of mental health becomes more dominant, service provision and resource allocation has not kept pace with increasing need and demand for services. This is particularly in light of mental and physical ill-health co-existing and becoming common bedfellows in chronic disease management. Let’s hope that World Mental Health Day not only highlights issues related to the experience of mental health but acts as a catalyst to mobilise meaningful social actions such as:-
  1. Reviewing the public and political structures to include the meaningful involvement of service users at all levels of the decision making process (Rethink 2016). This would further highlight inequalities and disadvantage experienced by individuals and meaningfully influence the development of comprehensive mental health service provision.
  2. Reorganise health and social care structures around the holistic needs of service users rather than in the functional silos that currently operate.
  3. Use World Mental Health Day to evaluate the impact of service delivery for vulnerable groups to identify meaningful changes and clarify further challenges.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A nation stood still for 25 years: Can we find solutions for action in policy and practice?

Guest post by Ben Rigby (pictured), a postgraduate student in Durham University’s School of Applied Social Sciences and Associate Member of the Wolfson Institute of Health and Wellbeing Research

Fourteen – the number of pieces of legislation published since 1991 which specifically state ‘physical activity’ (PA) in the context in which Public Health England presents as a problem needing a long-term solution. That is, an unsustainable burden on the UK economy, resulting from diminished health and well-being, which may be alleviated by increasing population-level PA.
I want to help do something about this problem. For the next few years, I will be undertaking a North East Doctoral Training Centre ESRC-funded PhD to research how PA-related practice, evidence, and policy interact to benefit or disadvantage different population subgroups. This project will be supervised by both Dr Emily Oliver and Dr Caroline Dodd-Reynolds, co-directors of Durham University’s Wolfson Institute Physical Activity Special Interest Group. 

Although advances in public health policy and evidence have emerged, not least through the work of the Fuse’s Physical Activity Group on improving evaluation and translation, for example, there remains a clear disconnect between use of evidence, proper evaluation and the influence (and interference) of policy and politics in decision making and the provision of activity opportunities. Having worked for Hampshire’s County Sport Partnership for the past year, these are issues I have experienced first-hand.
As a practitioner, it was often difficult to translate available evidence into viable practice. Reasons for this were numerous, though included funding issues, difficulty in physically accessing research, as well as in understanding complex ideas of theory and evaluation, within the particularly vague policy context by which one was guided. Emerging literature also highlights issues in policy, such as failing to consider local implementation barriers, persistent participation inequalities or the intricacies of behaviour change.
The aim of my research will be to identify systems and opportunities that facilitate a more integrated relationship between PA evidence, policy and practice. In order to garner a holistic appreciation of these factors, it is vital to understand how policy makers receive, adapt and adopt evidence; how organisational factors constrain or facilitate its adoption and importantly, recognise values and interests of those influencing responses to the evidence or policy problem. A particularly neglected policy research topic has been individual or organisational capacity to act upon evidence.
Previous research has perhaps been somewhat one dimensional in these areas. Alternatively by employing a mixed-methods approach and my applied social sciences background, I will be able to generate a much-needed complex understanding of the extent that local, regional and national stakeholders use evidence in PA policy design and implementation, and review factors associated with successful policy implementation. Whilst building upon existing literature, it is intended that this will offer a unique interpretive perspective on people, practices and policy processes (both locally and nationally), enabling and supporting policy development and implementation.
Does sitting and talking, and a lack of progressive
 policy action, promote our sedentary society?
Specifically by investigating the following two core propositions initially, I propose that it may be possible to find equitable solutions for progress in increasing physical activity and provide an important contribution to the field of public health research:
  1. Weak evidence results in inherently conflicting and ambiguous PA policy, thus constraining implementation efforts
  2. Political entrepreneurs may offer more effective solutions for policy development and implementation 
Being a fledgling researcher
One of my relatives (a PhD recipient herself), once told me that doing a PhD will be the hardest thing I ever do. I am under no illusions about the task before me, the complexity of which may be compounded by investigating one of society’s most entrenched problems. However I welcome the challenge and cannot wait to get stuck in, even if a little part of me wonders if I have what it takes to make a difference in the world, as I am sure many new Social Policy researchers before me have. I hope that my research will land well and have impact in the academic sense, but also in tangible real life outcomes for local communities in time.
I am not alone in this quest, and hope over the coming years to work closely with Fuse and its focus on Translational Research; specifically, the Fuse Physical Activity group offers an important platform for me to engage with physical activity policy makers, practitioners and academics who I hope will engage with me in developing this programme of work. I believe research evidence should be free and accessible wherever possible, an issue I have already raised. I wish to experiment with how better to present evidence to make it attractive to both policy makers and practitioners. At the same time, I am conscious of having to develop my academic reputation and profile and balancing this with experimentation is something I am wary of at this stage. 
I wish to build networks within local institutions with like-minded students and academics to share ideas and findings. My aim is to disseminate throughout my project and beyond. I hope to be able to present to Fuse research fora, access advice and support from the group’s members, as well as contribute to this blog. I welcome any feedback on this post. In particular I would be delighted to hear from individuals, practitioners or groups who:
  • have shared research interests
  • are responsible for PA-policy production locally
  • research health inequalities
  • had difficulties implementing policy guidance and evidence
  • believe research in this area may benefit their line of work
Ben can be emailed at He is also on Twitter, LinkedIn and has a blog.

Notes and References:

  1. Figure taken 27 June 2016 – using the search term ‘physical activity’ at Between 1991 and this date 72,088 pieces of legislation were published. Results were manually screened and filtered for ‘physical activity’ as recognised by the World Health Organisation as benefitting health, well-being and personal and social development.
  2. Bowen and Zwi.2005. Pathways to evidence-informed policy and practice: a framework for action.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Giving Grandmothers a Voice

Guest post by Roz Rigby, a Health Improvement Practitioner at Newcastle City Council and Doctoral student in Public Health at Northumbria University

Today is Grandparents’ Day, a day which celebrates the contributions of grandparents to families and
society overall. Grandparents can have important roles in the health related decisions of families and my research is looking at the influence of grandmothers on introducing solid food. Much of the literature describes grandmothers in a negative light, suggesting they may advise their daughters to start solids before the recommended six months. I found that there was very little research that addressed this from the perspectives of grandmothers’ themselves, and therefore I set out on my research journey with the intention of finding out ‘how do grandmothers make sense of the role they play in introducing solid foods to their grandchildren?’

 I am using constructivist grounded theory methods based on the works of Charmaz (2014)1, and am still finding new meaning in my data, as I try to write up my findings. I am finding this an exciting time in the research, after the arduous task of trying to understand the terminology in qualitative methodology! I must admit that I expected to find grandmothers defending the older methods of introducing solids, which was generally started at around four months, but I actually found that they were open to change and generally accepted the new guidelines. I have also uncovered a complicated web of dynamic family interactions in which grandmothers can struggle to come to terms with competing values of the wider family that they find themselves in. Some grandmothers expressed how marginalised they feel, as they do not have access to the latest information, except through their daughters or daughters in law, and yet, they are often providing extensive childcare.

One of the issues that this research has highlighted for me, is the contested levels of responsibility that grandmothers face. On the one hand they are ‘proxy’ parents, making autonomous decisions about the food that they offer their grandchildren, whilst on the other hand, this can compete with the parents’ decisions and parenting styles (which may in turn be influenced by the other grandparents). Being able to switch this responsibility on and off can cause tension and conflict, particularly if there is a feeding issue. The problems of having a fussy eater can cause parents and grandparents immense distress, with issues of power and control coming to the fore. Grandmothers often worry about conflict within the family and are wary about raising their concerns, for fear of fracturing relationships and possibly losing contact with their children and grandchildren.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, as they all report feeling immense love for their grandchildren and a similar nurturing feeling that they had for their own children. They get tremendous satisfaction from these relationships, and I hope that my research will help practitioners to have a better understanding of the issues grandmothers face. I am looking forward to using the findings to develop an intervention that will help families navigate potential intergenerational conflicts and find ways of developing collaboration within families, as they all have the best interests of the children at the heart of what they do.

  1. Charmaz, K. (2014) Constructing Grounded Theory (2nd Edition). Sage

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Is the UK an intolerant society for children?

Posted by Peter van der Graaf, AskFuse Manager, Teesside University

UNICEF statistics about child wellbeing among the 29 wealthiest countries in the world made for uncomfortable reading in 2007 with the UK bottom of the league table. Children and young people in Britain were among the unhappiest, unhealthiest, poorest and least educated in the developed world in the early years of the new millennium. Since then many initiatives and policies have been implemented to increase child wellbeing in the UK and when the league table was repeated by UNICEF in 2013 the UK moved up 15 places to a mid-table position of 16th.

However, we are still behind many European countries and with the ongoing austerity measures and continued disinvestment in health and social care services for children we could find ourselves back at the bottom league in the not too distant future. This begs the questions whether ‘simply’ improving health and other services for children is enough?

According to Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Professor Emeritus of Child Health at University College London and former President of the British Medical Association, the problem runs much deeper. He argued at the Fuse Knowledge Exchange Seminar yesterday in Newcastle, titled 'Think Adult - Think Child', that the real problem in the UK is that we are becoming an intolerant society for children. He pointed to the dire straits of politics for children in the UK: not only is the voice of children lacking from national policy making (an argument that he is well positioned to make as the first Children’s Commissioner for England), the policy making itself has often been poor.

The BMA published a damning report in 2013 in which it concluded that “the national focus on children has been short term, inconsistent and untrustworthy”. Specific policies to support children, such as Every Child Matters, have been systematically eroded by consecutive governments; the recent much watered-down Childhood Obesity Strategy is another example of this and Theresa May’s new enthusiasm for grammar schools strikes further fear into the hearts of child rights advocates.

Politicians are not the only ones to blame according to Sir Al: the media regularly publish headlines about children and young people being a nuisance and causing crimes, while shops put up signs in their windows stating that dogs are welcome but that kids can only enter two at a time and, only then, without a backpack and when closely supervised. Most shockingly, public places such as railway stations are increasingly being fitted with high pitched devices that adults can’t hear but which are very unpleasant for young people and deliberately intend to drive them away.

One area where the neglect of children’s needs is particularly visible is bereavement: every 22 minutes a child in the UK loses a parent. While no routine data are collected in the UK on this group, estimates suggest that the majority of young people face the death of a close relative or friend by the time they are 16 years old. In spite of the many services available to families to help them stop smoking, exercise more and eat healthier, there is very little available for children who experience bereavement.

Sir Al presenting at the Fuse Knowledge Exchange Seminar
Specialist service providers attending the Knowledge Exchange (KE) seminar expressed their concern about not being able to cope with the current demand, as school teachers and parents lack basic skills in being able to talk to children about emotional problems, such as bereavement. In spite of this, we know from research that bereavement can have a lasting impact on the life of children long into adulthood. Bereavement in childhood has been linked to educational underachievement, joblessness, fractured adult relationships, adverse psychological and psychiatric consequences, together with poor physical health.

Sir Al’s presentation was therefore more a call to arms. What can we do in and outside Fuse to improve child health and wellbeing in the North East? Firstly, we can act as an advocate organisation to draw more attention to the needs of children and their position in society. Are their voices heard within Fuse? Do we engage with them in our projects?

Secondly, we can bring partners together across public health and related sectors in the North East to focus attention on this topic and bring together evidence and best practice to inform new collaborations. The KE seminar provided a platform for this that could be followed up. We also have a dedicated Early Life and Adolescence Programme (ELAP) within Fuse but does our research link to education and events later in the life course? For example, in Finland shops can rent a grandparent to help them engage with children when they visit their shop.

Thirdly, we need to turn this dialogue into a research agenda for child wellbeing in the North East. How can we mobilise evidence to change the prevailing attitude among politicians and the wider society so that they instead see children as valuable assets and a key policy priority for any government? This also involves challenging popular concepts, such as school readiness, which focus on individual responsibility. As Sir Al suggested at the end of the seminar, we should turn this concept around: are schools ready for children and what do they need to be able to be ready? Are they able to support children’s emotional development and can they help them to cope with bereavement experiences?

Making the UK a better place to live for children requires more than service redesign, it needs political will and consistent pressure from a coalition of organisations to achieve this, supported by actionable research to change hearts and minds.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Dealing with emotions and breakaway training: reflections on collecting survey data in a prison

Guest post by Jennifer Ferguson, Research Associate (Alcohol Team), Teesside University

“Wear tracksuit bottoms, bring your trainers and be prepared for Judo style moves” – not something you hear every day when trying to set up data collection. Working in a prison has been an eye opener, in ways I expected, and in ways I could never have anticipated. I sit on F wing, the wing that prisoners are brought on to when they arrive. It is in the middle of this wing that I carry out surveys about brief alcohol interventions with each new prisoner for a research project at Teesside University.

When I think back to the phone call I received about “breakaway training” and how I felt on that day, (being told how to physically hurt people should I be attacked, and kicking grown men) it was all very useful and I believe necessary when working on a prison wing. However, what I should have been preparing for was how mentally challenging it is. Prison staff become hardened (through lack of choice) to what happens in there, they have to become emotionally disentangled from each prisoner, and some literally make fun of the inmates. Of course we need to know how to hide our keys, get out of basic holds, locate the alarms and know basic breakaway techniques. But the awful feeling I felt in the pit of my stomach for a vulnerable new prisoner who enquired as to where everyone was going with their towels (they were lining up for the showers), and who was told by another inmate: “swimming mate, you wanna go? Just go up there and ask ‘Mr Jones’”, will stay with me for a long time.

Prisoners don’t expect you to be nice to them, and no one uses first names. It is surnames for prisoners and Sir and Miss for staff. They don’t touch you, even to shake your hand. The language is horrific. This is just the way it is. So in my first few weeks - hearing ‘Thompson’ tell me about how he misses his wife and kids, ‘Scott’s’ emotional breakdown because he is terrified of being inside, and ‘Smith’s’ heartbreak about his childhood and battle with drink and drugs - I soon realised I didn’t need to know how to defend myself against anyone. What I needed to learn, and fast, was how to switch off emotionally in front of these grown men. I am an emotional person and could easily fill up with tears in an instant at some stories. In my time as a researcher, when writing papers, collecting data in various formats and spending hours inputting it into a statistics software package, I have never had to deal with grown men crying. That being said, I am told every day by the peer prisoners not to believe everything I am told. I will learn how to deal with my emotions and what prisoners tell me… and by then be finished data collection. I wonder if my perspective will change the more time I spend in there? 

I guess my point is that I am learning that you cannot understand everything in public health research from articles and text books. A class room cannot prepare for you for the mental challenge of working in prison setting. However, this difficult piece of data collection will be vital to our study and my development as a researcher.

Photo attribution: “Jailed.” by disastrous via, copyright © 2008:

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Stress is a universal experience, but is it unequally distributed across society?

Posted by Dr Joanne-Marie Cairns and Dr Emily Henderson, Durham University and Fuse.

How are you feeling today? Stressed at all?! If so, you are in good company.

Stress is so pervasive in our society that it contributed to a shocking 9.9 million working days lost in 2014/15(1), which equates to an average of 23 days per person. From an evolutionary perspective, stress is useful to animals such as humans to help us react to physical and social threats, commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. According to Danielsson(2) and colleagues, stress can simply be defined as an imbalance between demands placed on us and our ability to cope with them. But if stress continues over a long period of time then a permanent imbalance may arise between the body’s degenerative (reduced growth) and regenerative (regrowth) functions. Stress can also lead to everyday problems including poor performance at work, low mood, lack of motivation, fatigue, sleep disturbance and chest and muscular pain as well as major life-limiting health problems such as high blood pressure, depression and chronic pain.

In light of these concerns, we organised a Health Summit on inequalities-related stress, with colleagues from the Local Area Research & Intelligence Association (LARIA), the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, and Fuse - the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. This event was hugely popular and brought together a wonderful mix of delegates and speakers from policy, practice and academia, from the North East and across the UK. The programme, which includes a list of speakers and a description of the talks, can be found here.

While stress can be a universal experience, it doesn’t manifest equally amongst certain population groups. For instance, Thoits(3) conducted a review which highlighted how unequally high exposure to stress by women and people in lower socioeconomic and minority groups lead to inequalities in health outcomes. Moreover, we see health inequalities accumulate over the life course as a result of this unequal distribution of disadvantage, for example Thoits refers to a study conducted by Turner and colleagues(4) that examined the effect of cumulative stressors in adults. These stressors that accumulated over time, explained a significant 50 per cent of the Socioeconomic status (SES) gap in depressive symptoms.

What are health inequalities then? These are differences in health status or determinants of health between different population groups. There are also intersecting inequalities, for example, if you are a lone parent but also on a low income, living in a disadvantaged area. Moreover, coping mechanisms sometimes adopted to mitigate stress can be health-damaging and lead to other forms of health problems, such as smoking or alcohol misuse. John Watson (Deputy Chief Executive, Action on Smoking & Health (ASH) Scotland) quite rightly argues that smoking IS NOT A LIFESTYLE ISSUE; rather in his words it is a form of medication to society’s maladies. Just think of the current global economic downturn as a societal issue that can be at the root cause of individual depression. As well, unequal access to jobs (at least good jobs that aren’t precarious in nature or that might lack autonomy) or good schools, which already limit an individual’s future prospects and may as a result contribute to psychosocial stress and poorer health highlighting the structural factors that are beyond the individual. Furthermore, stress at the population-level can manifest into geographical health inequalities. Data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) shows that the North East Strategic Health Authority (SHA) had the highest admission rate due to anxiety of any of England's 10 SHAs (just under 24 per 100,000 of the population), while South Central SHA had the lowest (at nearly 11 per 100,000), mirroring other health outcomes and shows the stark North-South health divide in England.

‘Lifestyle’ is used ubiquitously in current public discourse, and can be understood as a set of factors that describe a person’s daily living. Obesity-related lifestyle often refers to people’s behaviours and apparent food choices(5). These so-called behaviours are ways in which individuals respond to challenging circumstances. They are not choices in the purest sense of the word. Rather, an individual may be experiencing financial difficulties and, feeling the demands in their life which outweigh their ability to cope, may respond to the situation by smoking, drinking or comfort eating. But what is actually causing the financial difficulty in the first place? Are individuals to blame for reacting to the bleak reality of poverty and the social gradient they find themselves in? The seminal work by Sir Michael Marmot tells us that we instead need to consider the “causes of the causes” of inequality, not just the symptoms. Politics is also important, as we have seen in the government’s release of the new obesity strategy which continues to support healthy choices, and maintains the voluntary efforts by industry by suggesting a 5 per cent sugar reduction in children’s food and drink. The chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, Dr Wollaston, told BBC Radio 5 live that “it does show the hand of big industry lobbyists and that’s really disappointing”(6). A key political talking point relates to the fact that what was a 50-page document was shortened to a mere 10 pages which does not do something as complex as obesity justice – it was “weak and watered down”.

To sum up, the discussions from our Health Summit supported the principle of moving away from individualised and stigmatising conceptions of unhealthy behaviours; after all it is not just poor people that behave poorly!

  1. Figures obtained from: [last accessed 17/08/16]
  2. Danielsson M, Heimerson I, Lundberg U, Perski A, Stefansson C-G, Ákerstedt T. 2012. Psychosocial stress and health problems. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 40(9):121-134.
  3. Thoits PA. 2010. Stress and Health: Major finding and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(s):41-53.
  4. Turner R, Jay and William R. Avison. 2003. Status Variations in Stress Exposure: Implications for the Interpretation of Research on Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Gender. Journal of Health and Social Behavior,44:488–505.
  5. Nettleton S. Lay health beliefs, lifestyles and risk. The sociology of health and illness. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press; 2006. p. 33-70.
  6. [last accessed 19/08/16]