Sir Liam Donaldson & public health

08/07/2013  -  10.08

Ranjit Khutan, Principal Lecturer and Head of Public Health & Wellbeing

Sir Liam Donaldson and the issues surrounding public health

Students and academic staff enjoyed hearing Sir Liam Donaldson, the former Chief Medical Adviser in the UK, share his thoughts on how public health issues can be addressed during his talk in Wolverhampton on Friday 28 June.

Entitled ‘Healthy, Wealthy and Wise’, the impact of lifestyle choices on rising obesity levels, alcohol misuse and health damage caused by smoking were explored. 

Sir Liam made many significant contributions to public health during his 12 years as Chief Medical Advisor in the UK, the most notable of which was the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants in 2007.

Considered to be one of the most important public health acts, the law has benefitted smokers’ health, changed their attitudes and behaviour and have had no adverse impact on pub and restaurant businesses. 

In studies looking at exposure to second hand smoke, the respiratory health of bar workers has improved dramatically, and exposure levels for children whose parents smoke has declined by nearly 70%.

Public health has undergone many changes, and laws such as the smoking ban reflect the notion that public health is ‘everyone's business’ and that we can prevent disease, prolong life and promote health through the organised efforts of individuals, communities and organisations.  

With populations becoming increasingly more mobile, it will come as no surprise that the divide between local and global public health issues has narrowed.

A local as well as a global public health issue that Sir Liam spoke about was that of rising obesity levels, which according to The World Health Organisation has reached epidemic proportions, with a least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

No longer associated with high-income countries, obesity is now also present in low and middle-income countries. Public health strategies across the world focus on unhealthy diets and physical inactivity; but those working to reduce obesity suggest that encouraging people to change their behaviour is easier said than done.

The increase in weight across populations have led some to argue that we can't all be learning bad behaviours across the world at the same time, and researchers to conclude that despite many knowing what they need to do, external influences prevent them from making healthier choices.

Public health courses at the University of Wolverhampton assist students to clarify the scope and goals of public health and focus on social models of health rather than just medical ones; in doing so, these courses are able to offer a modern understanding that reflects the international changes and developments witnessed in current and future health services.