Wales on line: Welsh Health Survey 2012

Dr Datta speaks to Wales on line

Walesonline 17 May 2013

Major concerns have been raised about the lack of progress in cutting smoking rates in Wales after new figures revealed nearly a quarter of adults still smoke.

The Welsh Health Survey 2012, published on Thursday, found 23% of people said they indulged in the habit – representing just a 1% drop since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007.

Health campaigners have branded the statistics “desperately disappointing” after the survey showed Wales’ smoking rate had remained static since 2010, and had fallen by only 3% since 2003-2004.

They also called into question the work of the Welsh Government in its attempts to meet its target to reduce smoking prevalence to 16% by 2020.

Chris Mulholland, head of British Lung Foundation Wales, said: “These figures are desperately disappointing and there’s no denying we’ve lost ground on the battle to improve the health of the nation.

“We really have to call in to question the effectiveness of the tobacco control initiative, and the commitment to meeting these targets.

“What these results show is that work done to date, to raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco, is not working. If the Welsh Government are serious about reducing smoking levels, they will take the positive step to introduce a ban on smoking in cars where children are present as soon possible, so that we can protect the health of future generations.”

Elen de Lacy, chief executive of Action and Smoking and Health (ASH) in Wales, said: “It is disappointing to see that prevalence rates remain stagnant at 23% in Wales.

“The Welsh Government has set an ambitious target of 16% smoking prevalence by 2020 and it is hard to see how we are going to reach this target if things remain the same in Wales.

“We need to be investing in comprehensive quit smoking campaigns, delivering more flexible cessation services and tackling illicit tobacco in our communities.

“We also need to take bold steps to prevent young people from starting to smoke, like introducing standardised packaging for cigarettes across the whole of the UK.”

The survey also painted a stark picture of the health of the nation, with the number of overweight or obese adults in Wales increasing for the first time for five years.

Nearly three in five (59%) were classified as overweight or obese, with 23% of those obese – an increase from 2011 where 57% were overweight or obese, with 22% being obese.

Just 29% reported being physically active on five or more days in the past week, and 33% reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables the previous day.

More than a third (34%) of children were classified as overweight or obese – a slight fall from 35% in 2011 – but the number classed as obese remained at 19%.

Mike Nutt, a weight loss surgeon at Spire Cardiff Hospital, said: “Unfortunately these figures are not a surprise. I do not think it is down to ignorance any more.

“The people I see know that their diet is terrible and that they are eating too much. The problem is you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, people do not have the willpower.

“I am expecting to see more people coming through my door in the next few years as this is a trend that is continuing across the Western world. The  education side of things could take years to start to come through.”

Professor John Williams, senior Royal College of Physicians officer for Wales, said a more “joined up” approach was needed.

He said: “It is disappointing that the number of overweight and obese adults has risen this year. I hope this is the wake-up call we need.

“Clinicians see the devastating impact of the obesity epidemic every day and we know that there is no easy fix.

“We need to use every available tool to change the way we live, which is why we have asked the Welsh Government to take a more joined up approach looking at everything from active travel to public health legislation.”

Dr Dev Datta, who specialises in the medical management of obesity, said: “It’s not one person or organisation’s responsibility to try and fix this. If you try to approach obesity in that sort of way then we are not going to be successful.

“All of us have a responsibility for our own health, and we cannot get away from that but some of us do that more than others. Companies involved in marketing food and drink also need to take responsibility to make things easier for people to make healthier choices.

“People in national and local government also need to play a role – if it’s easier to do things like cycle to work, more people would do it.

“And as the final part, those in medical care also have a responsibility to their patients. All these need to be brought together to be successful.”

The survey also found that 34% of adults reported that their day-to-day activities were limited because of a health problem or disability, including 16% who were limited “a lot”.

Meanwhile, 20% of adults reported fair or poor general health, while the same number reported currently being treated for high blood pressure, 14% said they were being treated for a respiratory illness, 12% for arthritis, 11% for a mental illness, 9% for a heart condition, and 7% for diabetes.

More than two in five (42%) reported drinking above the guidelines on at least one day in the past week, including 26% who reported drinking more than twice the daily guidelines.

A Welsh Government spokesman said Public Health Wales had submitted a review of health improvement programmes to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, who will be making recommendations to Health Minister Mark Drakeford.

The spokesman said more work  needed to be done to reduce the rate of smoking in Wales, adding: “While we have been making good progress in reducing smoking among young people, we need to do more to increase the number of adults successfully quitting smoking.

“Our Tobacco Control Action Plan sets challenging targets of no more than 20% of adults smoking by 2016 and 16% by 2020 and incorporates action to improve the delivery smoking cessation provision.

“There is compelling evidence that the most effective approach to tobacco control is a comprehensive strategy combining legislation, high taxation, regulation of advertising and sales, restrictions on smoking in public places, and a tailored range of awareness, education and cessation initiatives.

“If we are to change attitudes and smoking behaviour in order to meet our targets of then we all need to work together to promote a positive smoke-free approach.”

Speaking about obesity the spokesman added: “While the latest figures for children are more encouraging, after a number of years of stability we have seen a small rise in the rate of overweight and obesity amongst adults this year.

“The Welsh Government will continue to support national initiatives that aim to tackle these statistics.”