Superheroes Needed to Tackle Timebomb

Photo: Cigarette and chips

Public health 'superheroes' are
needed to help tackle the growing
challenges posed by obesity,
alcohol and smoking;© University
of Leeds

It suggests that potential public health 'superheroes' can come from both within public health disciplines, and perhaps more importantly, from outside the profession. However, the research also questions the ability of current public health professionals to lead and influence policy. Instead, it voices concerns about the "corporatisation" of public health in compromising leaders' abilities to speak out as independent advocates for the health of the public.

One of the lead authors of the research, Professor Darren Shickle said: "Public health as a specialty has been stifled by re-organisation and it is critical that both current and new professionals have help in becoming more effective leaders. You only have to look at the role that Jamie Oliver has played as someone who has the ability to engage, inspire and make a difference. But we need to act now to ensure public health leaders at all levels have the skills, resilience and influence to address the public health challenges of today and the future."

World Health Organisation data reveals the extent of the challenge, indicating that that worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980 and that the harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year. Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year and according to the Department of Health, smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths every year in the United Kingdom alone.

Professor Tom Oliver, from the University of Wisconsin, added: "We must ensure that leaders across many sectors of society understand the causes and consequences of these major threats to health and well-being. More importantly, we must develop leaders who can translate that understanding into political support for evidence-based responses to those threats. The most effective leaders combine systematic analysis of problems and potential solutions, and have an ability to recruit partners and champions for new policies and practices."

Across the UK, local governments are preparing to take on a wider remit for public health from April 2013, with new duties to improve the health of their communities. Shickle believes this transference of public health functions to local authorities presents significant challenges but there are also opportunities for both developing current leaders and recruiting new 'superheroes'.; Source: University of Leeds