Preventing non-communicable diseases in Wales

Posted on: 1st February 2021

The British Liver Trust has joined forces with Wales’s other leading Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) charities to call for all political parties in Wales to make bold commitments to the Welsh people and work to end preventable death and disease.

The report is the result of a collaboration between Wales’s leading health charities – we worked alongside BHF Cymru, ASH Wales, BLF-Asthma UK, Cancer Research UK, Stroke Association and Diabetes UK - to set out our collective priorities for the next Welsh Government to improve the nation’s health and protect our health service from the burden of non-communicable disease.

The problem

A non-communicable disease is a non-infectious health condition that cannot be spread from person to person. NCDs (such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung disease, and liver disease) are responsible for at least 20,000 deaths every year in Wales — more than half of all deaths1, many of which could be prevented through action on smoking, alcohol and obesity rates.

The British Liver Trust has long highlighted the impact of lifestyle behaviour on liver disease – 90% of liver disease is preventable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need to protect and support Wales’s NHS. Population-wide interventions and greater reach of support services would free up hospital beds and drastically improve the resilience of the NHS.

Urgent action is needed to address the societal factors that are affecting the health of people across Wales. The next Welsh Government has the opportunity to support the Welsh people to make positive health choices and reduce their risk of preventable illness.

The solution

Focus must be placed on population-level measures based on the regulation of common environmental factors which help drive consumption of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink. Wales needs to commit to empowering people to make healthier choices through interventions to reduce smoking rates; levels of overweight and obesity; and alcohol consumption — all of which we know impact worse on the poorest in our society. We have identified four areas of action to reduce the burden of NCDs in Wales:

  1. Availability
  2. Marketing
  3. Pricing and Promotion
  4. Treatment Services.

Availability

Across alcohol3 and high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drinks, there is a clear link between the increased availability and worse health outcomes. 38% of people are more likely to buy unhealthy food or drink if it is readily available and easy to access4.

Recommendations:

  • Empower and encourage local governments to regulate access to unhealthy food through improved planning and registration arrangements for the out of home sector5.
  • Commit to a national conversation, including all key partners, to develop a national strategy on the availability of alcohol through the lens of harm reduction.

Marketing

Marketing of health-harming products drives consumption and harm. As we have seen with tobacco over many years, regulating the content and the extent of marketing is a vital part of a whole systems approach to de-normalising use and supporting healthier living.

Recommendations:

  • Restrict the advertising of alcohol and HFSS food and drink. This should include outdoor advertising such as billboards, public transport, digital media advertising, and sponsorship of professional sports and events.

Pricing and Promotion

Around half of people in Wales are more likely to buy unhealthy food and drink when it is on price promotion and 41% of people are more likely to buy alcohol if it is priced competitively6. The people of Wales need to be supported to make healthier choices. This can be done through making the price of health harming products less attractive and making healthier choices more affordable.

Recommendations:

  • Legislate to restrict the use of price promotions on HFSS food and drink, to help make the healthiest choice the easiest choice.
  • Propose to continuously review minimum unit price for alcohol to take account of price inflation and to optimise the effect of the policy in reducing alcohol harm, in line with the most recent available evidence.

Treatment Services

Treatment services are the most effective way to quit smoking or reduce alcohol. However, current services in Wales are not reaching everyone who needs them.

Recommendations:

  • Place the restoration of support services for weight management, alcohol treatment and smoking cessation at the heart of the NHS’s recovery planning. This should include sharing learning on how technology can provide more flexible and accessible options for people in need of support.
  • Ensure equitable access to effective weight management services across all local health boards.

Find out more

This blog highlights some of the key recommendations, focussing on those most relevant to tackling the liver disease burden. You can read the full report here in Welsh or English.

You can contact our team in Wales for more information by emailing wales@britishlivertrust.org.uk

References

1.)   England and Wales, Office for National Statistics (2018). Deaths registered by cause, gender and age. https://bit.ly/3oDKKcB.

3.)   Alcohol Focus Scotland (2018). Alcohol outlet availability and harm in the city of Edinburgh. https://bit.ly/2Jd5k3g.

4.)   YouGov Survey for BHF Cymru of 1060 Adults (18+) in Wales, 11–16 November 2020.

5.)   Obesity Action Scotland. https://bit.ly/3kLrNCo.

6.)   Ibid. 4.

 

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