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Mind the gap: Differences in attitudes to health and health improvement across Welsh society

A new report by Public Health Wales and Bangor University highlights stark differences in health-related opinions between people in Wales depending on their age and employment, and how they live their lives.

People who said they feel healthy were more likely to agree (59 per cent) that the NHS should spend less on treating illness and more on preventing it than those who said they feel less healthy (46 per cent) - who may feel a greater need for health treatment.

Unemployed people were also less likely to agree and among 30-49 year olds, only 39 per cent of unemployed people agreed compared with 59 per cent of employed people.

Reducing advertising of health-harming products such as junk food and alcohol can help to prevent illness but while three quarters of people with healthier diets (5+ portions of fruit and vegetables / per day) agreed that advertising of junk food should be banned to reduce childhood obesity, this reduced to 64 per cent in those with low fruit and veg consumption (0-2 portions per day).

Equally for alcohol more than half (56 per cent) of people who never binge drink agreed that advertising of alcohol should be banned to reduce alcohol problems, yet this reduced to just over 40 per cent in binge drinkers.

The survey also found that people who were unemployed were much more likely to feel socially isolated. In those 50 year or over, 35 per cent of unemployed people agreed I often feel isolated in my local community, compared with just 4 per cent of employed people (and 8 per cent of retired people).

People reporting health-harming behaviours such as smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet also felt more isolated than their healthier counterparts.

Professor Mark Bellis, Director of Policy and International Development, a World Health Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being at Public Health Wales, and a co-author of the report, said:

“On the journey to a healthier, more sustainable Wales is critical that we take all sectors of the Welsh population with us. This report will help us better understand the different approaches to protecting and improving health people favour depending on their stage of life and life style, and so adapt our efforts to meet the needs of different communities.”

Dr Catherine Sharp, Research Officer, Public Health Collaborating Unit at the University's College of Human Sciences and lead author of the report said:

“The differences highlighted by this survey suggest that when targeting different population groups, even within the same age range and same lifestyle behaviour, one size does not fit all, and people will need to be educated on the benefits of such changes before they can be introduced to an intervention in order to fully benefit.”  

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Among 30-49 year olds, employed people (59 per cent) were more supportive of professional advice being given to parents on how to raise their children well than unemployed 30-49 year olds (41 per cent).
  • People who said they have low health (61 per cent) were less likely to agree that they are confident that the NHS will meet their healthcare needs than people with high health (74 per cent).

3,310 Welsh residents were asked how much they agreed with a range of statements related to public health.

Publication date: 13 March 2019