Welsh Government
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Lifestyle choices affecting long-term health prospects of nation

Wales’ CMO Dr Tony Jewell publishes fifth annual report.

Life expectancy in Wales continues to increase but lifestyle choices such as drinking to excess and smoking are impacting on the quality of life of many, Wales’ top doctor said.

In his 2010 annual report, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales notes that overall health in Wales is good and continues to improve. There has been a reduction in rates of premature (under-65) deaths from cancer and circulatory diseases.

The report says that despite the trajectories for life expectancy improving, there are concerns that Wales may be slipping compared to other parts of the UK with gaps growing wider between the healthy and the unhealthy. There are also areas of deterioration such as an increase in deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

Dr Jewell said:

“Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and ill health in Wales, acting as a driver for health inequities. We’re working to reduce the harm of second-hand smoke, particularly on children, and encouraging people to quit smoking.

“I am pleased to report a decrease in the number of younger people taking up smoking and drinking. This is a welcome trend and one we must sustain.

“This year the Welsh Government looked at the possibility of a ban on smoking in cars containing children and I would like to see more done to discourage children from taking up smoking. The implementation of a ban on cigarette vending machines in Wales will help, as evidence shows they have been a source of tobacco for young smokers. Removing logos from packaging at a UK level would be a step in the right direction that the UK government could take towards making smoking less attractive to young people.

“One of the best ways to protect children from smoking and deter them from taking it up is by not smoking in the home and I would recommend parents to think of their children’s health before lighting up.

“NHS hospitals are also the right place to set a good example with smoke-free buildings and grounds and I am looking to NHS staff to lead the way by not smoking at work.

“While many people enjoy alcohol responsibly, others put their health at risk by drinking to excess and bingeing. Wales performs poorly in drinking in young people surveys internationally and this is a concern. Parents must set an example and this is one of the key recommendations made in the guidance I issued in You, Your Children and Alcohol.

“I would like to see a higher minimum price per unit introduced for alcohol, however the powers to introduce such measures lie with the UK Government. While their plans for a ban on the sale of alcohol at below cost price are a step in the right direction, I believe the case for introduction of a minimum price remains strong.

“Some might argue that these behaviours are culturally ingrained but it is no excuse, people are capable of making their own decisions. Smoking and drinking increases health inequalities and widens the gap between the most and least deprived.

“Healthy lifestyle choices will lead to improved quality of life in the long-term and equitable health gains for the Welsh population and we will continue in our work to make healthy choices easier.”

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said:

“I welcome this report from the Chief Medical Officer.

“I have asked the NHS in Wales to use its weight in the community to do good in ways other than just providing services. It should look for opportunities to help create safe, confident, prosperous and sustainable communities and tackle poverty and its impacts on health, just as we as a Government are doing. Every clinical consultation should be a health promotion opportunity.

“Wales was the first UK country to vote in favour of a ban on smoking in public places and if necessary we will not shy away from considering the introduction of progressive legislation to further protect children from second-hand smoke.

“We will mount a renewed campaign to tackle smoking alongside other interventions such as quit programmes, but will consider pursuing legislative options if children’s exposure to second-hand smoke does not start to fall within the next three years.”

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