The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued public health guidance that aims to help health professionals bring about changes in people's behaviour that will enable them to enjoy healthier lives.
NICE says that interventions to change people's health-related behaviour have enormous potential to alter current patterns of disease – for example, encouraging people to give up smoking reduces smoking-related illness, and getting people to eat a healthier diet and increase levels of physical activity can help to reduce levels of obesity.
But NICE argues that the lack of a unified approach to behaviour change across different public sectors has meant such interventions have to date enjoyed only limited success.
The NICE guidance is based on a comprehensive assessment of the evidence on what approaches and strategies are effective in bringing about health-related benefits for the population as a whole.
Commenting on the guidance, Andrew Dillon, NICE Chief Executive, says: "While medicine can achieve so much in treating disease and disability, getting people to change their behaviour is the most effective – and certainly the most cost-effective – way that we have for improving the health of adults and children in Britain.
"Our recommendations therefore cover not only how to help people to change, but also, crucially, how we can tackle the barriers to change that so many people face."
Dr Karen Jochelson, Senior Fellow in Public Health at the King's Fund, says: "This new advice is extremely welcome.
"A King's Fund report published this September found that unhealthy lifestyles threaten the long-term sustainability of the NHS.
"While there have been improvements in some areas, such as reducing smoking, rates of obesity and related illnesses are increasing because of poor progress on improving the nation's diet and physical exercise levels.
"Preventing poor health and helping people manage chronic diseases are key to reducing health costs and improving the quality of people's lives.
"This guidance affirms the need for change at many different levels of society. Legislation and regulation need to be supported by better information and programmes tailored to help individuals change. There is no single magic bullet – we need a multi-faceted approach."