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Choosing Health

"CHOOSING HEALTH making healthy choices easier choices".

In November 2004, the Department of Health published its commitment to and blueprint for health improvement under this title.

“Choosing Health” is a recognition that to improve the health of the population there needs to be partnership across government, local government and their communities, voluntary agencies and the business sector as well as with the NHS.

The aim of the policy document and its best practice accompanying guides is to provide opportunities for everyone to make informed choices about their health and healthcare, respecting the freedom of the individual to choose in an increasingly diverse and questioning society and recognising the impact of the consumer society that we all now live in.

The overarching priorities of the programme are:

  • reducing the numbers who smoke
  • reducing obesity and improving diet and nutrition
  • increasing exercise
  • encouraging and supporting sensible drinking
  • improving sexual health
  • improving mental health

Specific guidance is given on how these should be addressed and significant increases have been made in PCT baseline funding from 2006 and targets set within the Local Delivery Plan of each PCT to ensure that health economies address these key areas.

There is a recognition that people get their information on health from many different sources including friends and family, product labelling, the media and national campaigns. All of these mechanisms need to be employed to stimulate the demand for healthier options and we must also be able to provide options that will meet that demand. Health needs to be marketed so that there is more general understanding of health risks and the actions that can be taken to reduce risk and improve health.

“Choosing Health” also raises the need to tackle health inequalities. It recognises that health messages, including the communication of complex health information needs to be tailored to the needs of different population groups. In addition, practical support needs to be given to those who lack the basic skills to help themselves to health information.

The Government pledges itself to partnership with industry and the running of major information campaigns that will promote positive health information. Working with the food industry on food content and labelling would be an example of this.

The need to ensure that our children are able to make informed choices and have the best opportunities to be healthy is a key feature of the document. Reference is made to Government recommendations that all areas should have a Children’s Trust by 2008 and a commitment from Government to work towards the establishment of 2,500 Children’s Centres by March 2008. There is a call for more schools to become extended schools offering opportunities to pupils and their families to access health information and act upon that knowledge. There is a pledge to expand and modernise the school nursing service so that clusters of schools will each have access to a health team led by a qualified school nurse.

Chapter 5 of the document is entitled “Health as a way of life” and it sets out proposals for how action should be taken to ensure that everyone gets support to help them to adopt and sustain a healthy life. It introduces the concept of the “Health Trainer”. New funding has been made available by the Department of Health to launch this initiative. Health Trainers will be drawn from the local community, have an understanding of the concerns of their local community and will receive training through the NHS to enable them to help members of their community to make the healthy changes that they want to make.

A further chapter is entitled “A Health-promoting NHS” and calls upon local health services “to plan and deliver effective action to tackle inequalities and improve health and to ensure that health improvement and prevention services are of a high quality and benefit from the same drive for modernisation and improvement as exists across the rest of the NHS”.

The quote above is as applicable to the delivery of oral health programmes as any of the priorities named in the document itself. Furthermore, many of the Choosing Health priority areas and initiatives need to be linked to oral health improvement. Diet, smoking and alcohol are all risk factors for oral health and therefore partnership working will help to spread oral health messages and allow our communities to exercise more informed choices about the oral health of themselves and their families. Initiatives such as the introduction of Health Trainers should be considered for partnership working.

The aims and initiatives within “Choosing Health” have much to offer to oral health promotion and all those working in this field need to have a broad understanding of its aims and initiatives and seek to both embrace its principles in their own practice and look for opportunities to be a partner in delivery of common risk factor programmes.

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