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EDITOR'S LETTER: Public Health England's One You campaign – engaging people in preventative health

As the population continues to age, it’s vitally important that the fitness and medical sectors engage people in preventative healthcare. And now Public Health England has gifted us an opportunity to do exactly this.

by Kate Cracknell | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 4
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Kate Cracknell
Kate Cracknell

These are the facts: around 40 per cent of all deaths in England are linked to bad lifestyle choices, and NHS England spends more than £11bn a year treating illnesses caused by the effects of bad diet, inactivity, smoking and alcohol consumption. This is the stark reality of the health crisis in the UK – one that’s mirrored in many other countries around the world.

It’s never been more critical to engage the public in a preventative healthcare message; the impact of doing so would have a dramatic impact both on the nation’s medical bill and an ageing population’s quality of life. It could also bring a whole new raison d’être – not to mention new members with a long-term outlook on wellness – to the health and fitness industry.

The problem is, preventative healthcare is never an easy topic to tackle, and that’s primarily because people don’t generally want to listen. They already know the health risks of an unhealthy lifestyle – but they enjoy that lifestyle, and the lack of immediate (or even 100 per cent guaranteed) comeuppance means they’re willing to risk the odds. They’ll point to their neighbour – who’s never exercised, who’s smoked all their life and who’s still going strong aged 94 – and use that sample of one as the rationale for not changing their own behaviour.

So bravo to Public Health England for its latest campaign, One You, which dives headfirst into this challenging topic, targeting adults – and particularly 40- to 60-year-olds – with a preventative healthcare message. The campaign focuses on small lifestyle changes across seven key areas to improve health and wellbeing: eating well, sleeping well, being smoke-free, only drinking in moderation, getting health checks, reducing stress and exercising.

At the heart of the campaign is an online health quiz, and it’s well put together: it’s thorough but not tedious, informative but not dry, cajoling but not nagging. It balances praise and encouragement with gentle nudges towards better behaviour, including recommending apps such as ‘Couch to 5k’ to support people in developing new habits. It reinforces much of what we already know, but does so in a way that’s likely to make people think: “I should, and could, do that.”

It’s still early days, but public uptake has been remarkable: on its first day, the quiz received 364,000 hits. There’s clearly an appetite for prevention if it’s skillfully communicated, and this campaign ticks two important boxes: it gets people to listen, and then it builds on the message in a way that ensures they don’t immediately switch off again.

This is an absolute gift for our sector – but true gains will only be made if both medical and activity sectors use the momentum to fast-track progress in this vital area, turning interest into action.

It’s a shame there wasn’t more notice on the timing of the campaign, so our sector could prepare a strategy to maximise its impact, but there’s still plenty we can do. First and foremost, we must mobilise all staff with behaviour change expertise, briefing them on the campaign and preparing them to support consumers in taking the next step. The One You ‘conversation starter’ leaflet, designed to help health professionals discuss the seven areas of lifestyle change with patients, will be equally valuable to fitness professionals in this regard.

There must then be a concerted effort to engage all those who’ve done the One You quiz, taking advantage of this critical moment when they’re open to discussion. Whether it’s local press, radio or simply signs outside the club, gyms must ask: ‘Have you taken the One You test?’ and invite people in for a chat. This is a huge opportunity with the prospect of a comparatively easy win; let’s seize it.

Kate Cracknell, Editor
[email protected]
@healthclubkate

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