Junkfood Science: A new shock ad campaign

November 08, 2008

A new shock ad campaign

Catching up on medical news from the UK, one can’t help but look in wonderment at the logic of allocating limited public healthcare resources. These stories appearing in juxtaposition are a case in point.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson just announced that a new anti-obesity public health campaign will be launched on Tuesday. Called Change4Life, it will use shock tactics, depicting graphic images of gory internal organs oozing with fat, to scare people into dieting and exercising. It is hoped the pictures will disgust people about getting fat. If the current obesity epidemic continues, he said, 90% of adults will be overweight or obese by 2050. [Figure below depicts the predictions from the Foresight report.]

This campaign was born from the NICE obesity guidelines, the Foresight Programme of the Office of Science and Technology report issued last year, and the 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives' toolkit of national strategies issued last month. Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said: “Since I first spoke in my 2002 annual report of Obesity: the health time bomb, nothing has changed my mind about the seriousness of this threat to the country's future health.”

The new public health campaign is said to cost $631.52 million (U.S. dollars).

The Royal College of Pathologists reports that NHS trusts struggling to cut costs have resulted in a shortage of specialists in some areas and is hampering cancer survival rates. Diagnoses and life-saving treatments for seriously ill patients are being dangerously delayed because of shortages of highly trained specialists. Thousands of patients with immune disorders and allergies don’t have access to the 59 immunologists for the entire UK.

According to BBC News, a major trauma center has had to close several times due to staff shortages and NHS trust bosses report a UK-wide shortage of doctors to run the unit. Nurses are being brought in and trained to provide 24/7 emergency room coverage for nonemergent injuries at three hospitals.

The baby charity Bliss reported that a Freedom of Information investigation has found that 4 out of 5 special care baby units don’t have enough nurses to provide minimum care level to babies. The report estimates a shortage of 1,700 neonatal nurses in the UK and that units had to refuse new admissions about five weeks over the past year, with seven having to close for a total of three months. Three babies a day have had to be transferred out due to lack of capacity.

The Daily Mail reports that increasing numbers of Britons are going abroad for surgery and numbers are expected to double in the next two years. More than 100,000 people went abroad for care ranging from heart operations to plastic surgery last year. The reasons cited for the dramatic rise were high out of pocket costs to patients, longer waiting lists and the problem of hospital superbugs in UK hospitals. A shortage of dentists has also led to increases in numbers seeking overseas dental care. While out-of-country costs may be less, doctors are warning that many patients are being put at risk for complications and poor care through some of these medical tourism deals.

On Tuesday, patients and healthcare professionals will get hundreds of millions of dollars in special gory anti-obesity ads, said to be an important priority for public health. Cancer patients, trauma victims, parents of premature babies and cardiology patients may feel differently about that.

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