The NHS needs to use more sophisticated marketing techniques to convince people of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, a leading think tank says.
Copying strategies usually employed by commercial advertisers is just one of a range of tactics needed to tackle bad habits, a King’s Fund report warned.
NHS staff also need more training in promoting healthiness, the report said.
Unhealthy behaviour such as smoking and obesity is thought to cost the NHS in England more than Â£6bn a year.
The latest report is the conclusion of a year-long investigation into the effectiveness of different programmes to tackle smoking, alcohol misuse, poor diet and lack of exercise.
It found that the behaviours are “deep-rooted social habits” that cannot be easily changed.
And although the Department of Health invests heavily in publicity campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles – Â£50m in 2007/08 – providing information on its own has little effect, the King’s Fund said.
Social marketing techniques and data analysis tools like geodemographics should be used to identify, target and communicate messages designed to motivate people to change how they live.
And public health programmes should not rely on just one approach – such as information campaigns or financial incentives – as the evidence shows the most effective interventions employ a variety of tactics."Obesity and the health problems associated with smoking and excessive alcohol are the biggest challenges facing the 21st-century NHS"
Dr Anna Dixon, King’s Fund
Successful strategies highlighted by the report include a “Chill Out Cabin” set up by a health trust in Liverpool outside a nightclub for young people to get health advice, non-alcoholic drinks, and alternative therapies such as massages.
And a “Food Dudes” scheme, available in schools throughout England and Wales, which has significantly boosted children’s fruit and vegetable intake through a superheroes-style cartoon characters.
The report added that frontline NHS staff should be better trained in promoting healthy habits to patients – a goal which should be underpinned by contracts and incentives.
Dr Anna Dixon, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said the health services needs to be more innovative.
“Obesity and the health problems associated with smoking and excessive alcohol are the biggest challenges facing the 21st-century NHS.
“The methods used to promote public health need to be more modern, using the most advanced techniques and technologies.”
She added that more evidence was needed on the interventions that worked so money was not wasted.
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said he wholeheartedly agreed with the report conclusions.
“We need social marketing techniques to target messages and understand what will make changes worthwhile for people but also we need to make sure the healthy choices are the easy choices.
“The NHS needs to work with other organisations, such as local councils, to make sure the environment is right – for example in terms of physical activity we have to have safe places to walk and cycle.”
This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation