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The social, commercial and cultural determinants of health mean that the field of public health is constantly changing and the subject of public debate.
On the HEG Blog we aim to offer regular insight, commentary and opinion on the latest, and most pressing, public health issues.


As Coca-Cola announce their Christmas Truck Tour, Health Equalities Group CEO, Robin Ireland, takes a closer look at the 'Holidays Are Coming' phenomenon.

The Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour is now in its twentieth year and has become a regular feature of festive TV schedules in more than 100 countries. In 2013, the truck's tour website received nearly two million hits. In total, 200,000 people appeared in the photos taken from the visits and the hashtag #HolidaysAreComing was shared 57 million times. How do I know all this? Because every year the media more or less reprint Coca-Cola's press release as shorthand to tell us Christmas (the 'holidays?') is on the way.

So that's 57 million times Coca-Cola's logo has been a backdrop to lots of smiling children and their mums and dads. Not the Diet Coke logo, not the Coca-Cola Zero logo and not the Coca-Cola Life brand. Nope, just good old American Coca-Cola in the original red and white colours. Coke argue that they don't give out samples from their truck to children under 12 years- at least without parental consent. So they are not really promoting a sugary drink to young children then... and I believe in Father Christmas.

In case you missed the concern raised by Jamie Oliver and an army of health experts over the last year, just one can of standard Coca-Cola contains 7 teaspoons of sugar; enough sugar to total your recommended maximum daily amount in one long swallow.

Coca-Cola is the fourth most valuable brand in the world apparently (Forbes, 2015); after Apple, Microsoft and Google. A drink that may be more available than fresh water in some parts of the globe. And the sugary concoction that has taken over the Mexican market so completely (Coca-Cola controls 73% of the Mexican fizzy drinks market) that it is no surprise that Mexico has some of the worst problems with obesity and diabetes in the world. And also why Mexico imposed a Soda Tax in 2014.

So, why is it that our towns and cities welcome a mobile advert into the heart of our shopping areas when 25% of our five year olds have tooth decay, 20% of 10-11 year olds are obese and the NHS may cave in under the cost of treating type 2 diabetics?

That big shiny truck- half surprised Coke hasn't signed up Jeremy Clarkson wearing a grey beard as well- is spreading more sugary nonsense on the back of linking itself to a festival we are all waiting for in this time of austerity. But Coca-Cola can afford it can't they from those massive profits. The rest of us are struggling to buy presents and pay the dentist's bill. For 80 years, Coca-Cola has used Santa Claus and Christmas to promote its sugary pop. Haven't we grown up enough by now to say this is one present we can do without?

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A Year in the Life of Health Equalities Group

In this blog our Chief Executive, Robin Ireland, reflects on the past year for Health Equalities Group following our recent AGM.

The Health Equalities Group held its tenth charitable Annual General Meeting recently. I have been fortunate to be the CEO throughout this period and used the opportunity of the AGM to reflect on the current situation facing public health social enterprises in the UK.

Much is not positive of course but for me personally, and for my organisation, our values are unchanged. Children must be given a healthy start; we need to work with communities to provide solutions; we need to work at all levels to address the prevailing health inequalities experienced amongst our most disadvantaged populations. And we will continue to work with all partners, whether within the public, private or third sectors, who share these values.

However, in the current climate, charities are under attack, local authority budgets are being hammered and procurement processes are expensive and often ignore or do not understand social value and the additional benefits given by local knowledge and partnerships.

As the CEO of a charity with its office in Liverpool, I feel that we have somehow been thrown back in time to the city's Victorian heritage, where wealthy philanthropists 'did good' by establishing the forerunners of many of today's best known charities such as CAB, Age Concern and NSPCC.

But investing in prevention and public health shouldn't be about the rich giving to the 'deserving' poor; of course 'not deserving' according to some of our tabloid press. It simply makes sound economic sense to invest 'upstream' and make it easier (and cheaper) for people to lead healthier lives rather than spend their final years suffering from a range of often largely avoidable chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

So why when children's obesity levels are so high, people in our disadvantaged communities continue to smoke and too many cars pollute the air in our cities, are public health budgets being slashed?

It is always for too easy to blame individuals for their lifestyles when those growing up in Kensington, Liverpool rather than Kensington, London are going to be presented with very different choices. The Health Equalities Group continues to advocate for better health, for driving national policy change from local action as with the role we played (amongst a grand local and national coalition) for lobbying for the legislation which keep our covered areas free from cigarette smoke. 

Today we campaign for issues such as control on junk food marketing to children and smoke-free hospitals. And, as in Victorian times, the Health Equalities Group and the charitable sector provides a creative, innovative and value for money approach to improving the health of our populations.

Click here to download the accompanying presentation slides. (PDF)

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Q. When is an advocacy group not an advocacy group?

Answer: When it's owned and managed by Forest (a tobacco-industry funded organisation).

Launched this week, Action on Consumer Choice (AoCC) purports to stand-up to the 'Nanny State', claiming that "A once benign nanny state has become a bully state".

Ostensibly positioning themselves as friends of the consumer, AoCC appear to conveniently ignore those consumer voices that conflict with their own. Take for example smoke free legislation. Smoke free legislation has the support of the majority of the population (A YouGov survey from March 2014 indicates that 82% of adults in England support smoke free legislation). Yet AoCC appear happy to ignore the fact that the majority of the population would prefer the choice to enjoy smokefree environments...

Robin Ireland, Chief Executive of the Health Equalities Group, comments:

"It is worrying and disconcerting to see another front-group established by Forest; a tobacco-industry funded organisation."

"Despite their claims to stand-up for consumer choice, it will be interesting to see if Action on Consumer Choice actually stand up for genuine free choice, or merely those choices that align with the interests of industry."

"It's important that people know the backers of Action on Consumer Choice and that we do not allow them to unfairly distort public debate and to undermine ongoing efforts to protect the public's health from vested interests."


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The economics of chronic disease

Across Europe chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease) account for 86% of all deaths each year, though rates vary between and within countries due to stark inequalities in health.

Given the huge impact that these conditions have upon healthcare costs throughout the EU, the EConDA Project has been established to consider recommendations for integrated interventions, performing an economic evaluation of the investment required, expected outcome and possibility for scaling up/transferring experiences across Europe.

And at Health Equalities Group we are proud to be a partner in this unique project and to be utilising our extensive experience at working at European level to make a strong contribution to the project's evaluation.

Robin Ireland, Chief Executive of Health Equalities Group, said:

"Chronic diseases pose a significant current and future challenge to health systems across Europe. I am pleased that are part of the EConDA project which will ultimately help EU member states to develop, select and implement more cost-effective policies to improve chronic disease prevention."

If, like the EConDA project, you feel you could benefit from our extensive experience at European-level, contact us and find out more about our specialist EU health consultancy services.

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