As Britain ages amid austerity, more and more people will suffer from long-term health conditions. Obesity and diabetes are on the rise. Mental health problems are widespread. Tobacco and addictions are well-known killers. Each condition brings high costs, both financial and social. Meanwhile, budgets for the NHS, social care and public health are being squeezed. Despite this potential crisis, new opportunities are emerging to support both healthcare providers and the population. Advances in understanding will change how behaviour can prevent and mitigate ill health. Our approach to health must become more ‘social’. The Health of People – a report compiled by the Campaign for Social Sciences – investigates a range of ways to cut the cost of health interventions and to improve patient outcomes as well as ways of preventing people becoming patients. The report includes arguments for and case studies in favour of a more rounded, social science informed view of health and wellbeing. It concludes with an invitation to clinicians and policy makers to think outside the box of ‘care’ about the causes and prevention of ill health.
‘The discoveries that tobacco smoking causes lung cancer, a retrovirus causes AIDS, or that cervical cancer is caused by a papillomavirus, do not by themselves improve human health. Human behaviours such as smoking, drug use, sexual activity and relationships, or uptake of screening do not change instantly in response to such discoveries.
Rather such behaviours are embedded in social relationships, and are subject to norms, values and social meanings, and the way we organise our society. If we are to improve population health and reduce inequalities in health, we need to understand these behaviours better, and how to change them.
We also need to understand that these behaviours are not a matter of simple or rational choices (‘surely if we tell people to stop smoking, or ...