How Public Health England's campaigns will change behaviour in January
A view from Sheila Mitchell

How Public Health England's campaigns will change behaviour in January

Public Health England's marketing is vital work

For the third year in succession, Public Health England will be launching multiple public health campaigns between Christmas and New Year.

It’s a formula that works: last year four million people came to us for help in the first few weeks of the year for help with quitting smoking or reducing sugar or alcohol intake, and we expect many more to join us this year.

This is vital work.

The biggest cost to the NHS isn’t delivering babies, treating infections or saving the lives of people who have been in accidents, but managing non-communicable or "lifestyle" diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease, cancers and strokes, diseases that could be greatly reduced if we all ate a healthier diet, drank less and took some exercise; or, in the case of the dwindling population of smokers, gave up or switched to electronic cigarettes.

This wouldn’t just reduce the current strain on our cherished NHS; it would make our lives longer, healthier and happier.

Most of us have at least one thing we’d like to change: new research has revealed that 83% of adults aged between 40 and 60 either drink too much, take too little exercise or are overweight (or some combination of those three). But we also recognise that there is a rhythm to people’s lives that needs to be respected.

I know there is no point trying to talk to people about cutting down on their drinking in December, but January provides an excellent opportunity for people to reassess and change behaviours. While it’s vital to start right, it’s not enough if people just make a change for a day or two.

That is why we have developed increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly marketing tools that apply behavioural science to support people on a lasting journey towards better health.

This year there will be three separate campaigns. Two will focus on adults: the first highlighting the health harms of smoking; the second continuing our very successful One You programme offering adults help in taking control of their diets, alcohol consumption and physical activity.

When we did this last year, over a million people took our How Are You? ("HAY") quiz and we are predicting even bigger numbers for "HAY2".

The third campaign continues to support the cross-Governmental response to childhood obesity, highlighting the shocking fact that school-age children currently consume half of their recommended sugar allowance before the school bell rings. We have created a fantastic app called Be Food Smart, which helps parents identify the sugar, saturated fat and salt in everyday food.

Every year we see the impact of our work on clinical outcomes, such as more people surviving cancer or strokes; now we have the potential to further reduce the terrible toll of these diseases on people’s lives and on our health service.

Our campaigns will be on TV, outdoor, digital, social media and PR; so make sure you join us this New Year.

Sheila Mitchell is marketing director of Public Health England.