The public’s views of public health interventions

Factors are not limited to our genetic make-up and the standard and availability of health care. The physical, social, and economic environments, as well as lifestyles, play a significant role. To protect the health of the population, it is important to safeguard funding for NHS but also other budgets, such as those for housing, education, and leisure facilities.

Health is more than just health care. Those in the know understand this, but does the public? Which interventions are most popular with the public when it comes to investing in public health?

A recent British Social Attitudes Survey has a question that is especially relevant to these questions. The survey asked respondents to imagine that they were in charge of improving the health of their local community. They had a budget of 40 counters to spend, which could be spent on housing, reducing underage tobacco and alcohol sales, providing leisure centers and parks, and offering discounts on healthy food.

Around 40% of respondents divided their budgets equally among all four measures (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Public spending priorities on four public health measures

When analyzed by age, however, different opinions begin to emerge. The older people were, the less they allocated to healthy food discounts (17% compared to 22% overall) and more to measures that reduce alcohol and tobacco sales to minors (32%) (see figure 2).

Older generations may view traditional or familiar public health policies, like alcohol and tobacco interventions, as a more worthwhile investment than spending on leisure centers or actions that affect health less directly, such measures as influencing perceived personal choices, such diets, or activities that appear to have fewer health implications.

Figure 2: Public spending priorities by age group for four public health initiatives

There was no significant difference in the allocation of budgets between men and women (see Figure 3). The younger men (aged 25-34) allocated more of their budget towards parks and leisure centers (31 percent compared with 24 percent for all respondents) and less toward alcohol and tobacco interventions (20% compared with 26%).

Surprisingly, despite the long-running debate about government intervention and personal freedom, as well as differing opinions on the extent of government involvement, the breakdowns based on political affiliation did not show any significant differences in priorities.

Figure 3: Spending priorities of the public for four public health initiatives, according to gender

The public has difficulty prioritizing policies that can improve health. The public may lack knowledge of how each approach affects health, making it difficult to differentiate between them. Or, they may want to be fair in allocating resources.

Local politicians and public health officers must do a better job of communicating successful public health interventions to the public. The success of implementing policies that are not supported or understood by the public will be limited.

Our infographics, produced in collaboration with the Local Government Association, are designed to support the education process by presenting key facts on population health, drivers of health improvement, and the case for interventions.

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