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.”

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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