Health efforts need clean air and less drinking

The health secretary Matt Hancock has called on people to make healthier lifestyle choices, such as reducing their consumption of alcohol, sugar, salt, fat and junk food, stopping smoking and staying active. At present, some £97 billion is spent on treating disease but only £8 billion on prevention. Hancock wants to shift the balance by getting people to take more responsibility for their health.

He was immediately criticised for blaming the victim. “People do not ‘choose’ obesity or diabetes or cancer,” said Simon Capewell, professor of public health and policy at Liverpool University. “They have just been overwhelmed by a toxic environment.”

Of course, much ill-health is the result of a genetic and environmental lottery. It’s harder to avoid junk food and unhealthy lifestyles if you are poor, ill-housed and depressed. Yet people are not purely helpless victims of circumstances. They make choices. They are not “overwhelmed” by obesity. They become obese because they eat too much. No one makes them do that. And obesity contributes greatly to ill-health.

To read my whole Times column (£), please click here.

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