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Majority of NHS leaders say that new regulations to tackle obesity would most benefit the health of their local communities

According to research led by the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH), the majority of NHS leaders say that new regulations to prevent obesity and its risks - such as diabetes and heart disease – could have the greatest positive impact on the health of local populations across the UK and they would like to see the NHS use its national platform more to advocate for these types of prevention measures.

Specifically, those surveyed by polling experts ComRes rank the following in their ‘top five’ regulatory or tax measures that they believe would most benefit their local population:

  • Adopting the marketing restrictions set out in chapter 2 of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, which includes banning junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed (64%)
  • Supporting local government and the NHS to improve access to weight management services (61%)
  • Following Brexit, reviewing the use of food subsidies and taxes to reduce the price of fruit and vegetables and raise the price of junk food (51%)
  • Using planning legislation to limit the proliferation of fast food outlets in certain areas (48%)

These proposed ‘no or low cost’ regulations have the potential to reduce rates of childhood obesity to pre-2000 levels and mitigate the cost of obesity-related chronic disease on the healthcare system, estimated at £5 billion per year. However, regulations alone are not enough to stop the rising burden of preventable diseases the UK faces today. Coordinated action across government departments, our communities, and the NHS is also needed.

This is apparent, with half (51%) of NHS leaders confirming that ill-health prevention is an important part of their department’s work. Worryingly, however, 81% of those surveyed say that current NHS prevention funding is too low to deliver local prevention interventions effectively. A shift in spending priorities is needed, with over two-thirds of NHS leaders (67%) agreeing that the NHS should spend more of its current budget on prevention activity.

These findings have today been published in a paper aimed at supporting the NHS to successfully implement the prevention aspirations outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan and the government’s Prevention Vision. The paper has been published by FPH and the work has been funded by the Health Foundation.

Professor Maggie Rae, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH) said: "Senior leaders in the NHS are uniquely placed to see the impact of preventable diseases on demand for NHS services. These findings show an NHS leadership signalling that, on the eve of a Prevention Green Paper, targeted action to address obesity and improve the local food environment must be prioritised if we are to ensure the long-term sustainability of all of our public services and safeguard the health of future generations.

"New legislation is, however, only one part of the solution to the obesity epidemic and the other public health challenges we face. The NHS is already doing a lot on prevention, but it’s clear that its leaders want to do even more. FPH agrees that the NHS needs to correct its own funding imbalance between prevention and cure and further, that local government must receive additional investment for critical public health services that keep us healthy and out of hospital such as exercise programmes and smoking cessation clinics."

Dr Dominique Allwood, Assistant Director of Improvement at the Health Foundation said: "The NHS has a key role to play in population health and prevention, which is why we’re working with the Faculty of Public Health to explore this important area. But moving the health service from a sickness service to one that prioritises prevention will require a shift in mindset and a refocusing of activities and funding. The findings from this research offer real insight into what leaders in the NHS already see happening around prevention, how they view their role in prevention and what they think the NHS should be doing to better support prevention.

It is encouraging to see that half of the NHS leaders surveyed say prevention is a core part of their work and the majority agree that the NHS could do more to support prevention within its existing budgets and services. The challenge now is to think about how leaders and other staff working in the NHS can be better supported to continue this shift to meet the ambitions on prevention and health inequalities set out in the recent NHS Long Term Plan."


Notes to editors

*According to the research, NHS leaders say these are the top four policy changes that would have the most benefit to the health of their local populations:

  • Adopting all of the marketing restrictions set out in chapter 2 of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan – including introducing the 9pm watershed on the TV advertisement of high fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) products (selected in the top 5 by 64% of respondents)
  • Supporting local government and the NHS to improve access to weight management services, such as the Diabetes Prevention Programme (selected in the top 5 by 61% of respondents)
  • Reviewing the use of subsidies and taxes to lower the price of fruit and vegetables and raise the price of junk food after Brexit (selected in the top 5 by 51% of respondents)
  • Using planning legislation to limit the proliferation of fast food outlets in certain areas – (selected in the top 5 by 48% of respondents.


  • Click here to read a summary paper outlining all of these NHS Prevention Opinion Polling findings in more detail
  • Click here to read the discussion paper regarding the NHS Prevention Opinion Polling
  • Click here to see the publicly published ComRes results tables
  • Click here to read and download the NHS long-term plan in full

Additional information:


ComRes interviewed 310 healthcare leaders and consultants between 22nd January and 18th February 2019. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of original sample file of healthcare leaders and consultants invited to participate, by region. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

For the purposes of this research we defined ill-health prevention as activities where the primary purpose is to avoid disease and risk factors (primary prevention) or to mitigate the progression of the effects of existing disease (secondary prevention).

About the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH):

FPH is a membership organisation for 4,000 public health professionals from across the UK and around the world, and is a registered charity. Our role is to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities and national populations. We support the training of public health professionals and campaign to improve health policy in partnership with local and national governments.

For further information, please contact:

David Parkinson
FPH Digital Officer
Tel: 020 3696 1468


Published 20 June 2019

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