Monday round-up: Obesity, free choice, technology and brains

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP has begun the morning tweeting about obesity apropos her conversation with Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal Society of Paediactrics and Child Health on Politics Home. We agree with both of them – stricter planning regulations for fast food outlets not to be allowed near schools and mandatory nutritional standards in all academies and free schools. Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra asks at BBCOnline why on earth NHS hospitals are not leading the way and banning all junk food? Across the pond, the Harvard School of Public Health is calling for a limit on the amount of sugar in drinks which sounds very much like Andy Burnham’s recent suggestions.

Andy’s Adviser Gabriel Scally picks up the theme of non-communicable disease (which includes obesity) and echoes points in the Journal of Public Health I have made before about free choice and public health. It is folly to think that we make entirely free choices when we are bombarded with advertising and messaging. He says:

The role of the global commercial interests behind the mass production and skilful marketing of tobacco, alcohol and food cannot be extracted from the analysis of the decisions made by individuals, communities or indeed, countries. Such vested interests seek to profoundly alter the decisions made by individuals through pricing and promotion in all its many forms. They also seek to impede public health measures aimed at protecting population health—witness the global campaign by the tobacco industry against those advocating plain packaging of tobacco products.

Given the reach of anti-health forces into all areas of society it is wrong to consider causative factors of non-communicable diseases as if individual choice can operate insulated from social, commercial and exploitative influences.

Meanwhile, the crucial need to enable us to control our electronic healthcare records is still a distant dream as PharmaTimes reports only 4% of GPs giving access to electronic medical records and 13% nearly ready to do so but with all others a long way off. And incredibly, some GPs at the BMA are still fighting off the benefits of telehealth. Their comments reveal that they have not read patient feedback and I know for sure that their view is not shared by others in the Union. They are also not shared by some leading doctors elsewhere, picked up by Forbes with the emphasis that use of technology HAS to be done at scale. The BMA GPs Committee really aren’t thinking ahead with respect to patient management – or in patient’s best interests –  which they need to do if they are to cope with demand, not least of which is being driven by our success in keeping people alive into later life.

On this subject, Juliette Jowit previews the House of Lords report on the impact of ageing, due out next month. We have known for many years now but politicians in the other house seem loathe to tackle head-on. I know the Lords could be said to have a vested interest  but this is a huge concern to the public who have are slowly realising that they are being given unreal expectations about health and social care.

The CEO of the NHS is still in post despite the scandal at Mid-Staffs happening on his watch. An MP who lost a young constituent at the hospital has called for his resignation today in the Mail.

The other article that really caught my eye this weekend was in the FT (£): Contours of the Mind. the US is expected to announce a $3bn investment into neuroscience over the next decade, aiming to map the 100bn neurons and the 10,000 connections that each with the usual promise that this could lead to cures for Parkinsons, autism, paralysis, depression etc. The EU has its own 1bn euro Human Brain Project and some of the rhetoric is sounding very similar to the Human Genome Project which, by any measure, delivered a lot less than expected. I am not a cynic, I simply think that some scientists have become masters of hype and should not continue to make claims that raise people’s hopes way beyond what they can realistically promise. We are much more than the sum of our genes, chemical and electrical connections, anatomy etc and to imply that we will have the answers once everything is mapped-out is nonsense. Prof Miguel Nicolelis from Duke sounds a note of sense: “I don’t think we will be able to simulate a human or even a mouse brain because the brain is not computable.”

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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