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Research experts call for rethink on approach to public health challenges

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The current approach to public health needs a radical rethink to address the health challenges of the next 25 years, according to a leading group of medical researchers.

In a report published today, the Academy of Medical Sciences said not enough was known about how environmental factors combine to determine the health of populations, and called for more co-operation across different disciplines and areas of expertise.

“Society is evolving rapidly and new challenges are emerging”

Anne Johnson

The report – titled Health of the Public in 2014 – also called for health to be put at the heart of all government departments, not just the Department of Health.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, academy fellow and chair of the working group that produced the report, said: “Public health measures such as smoke-free and clean air legislation, safer food and workplaces, and vaccination have resulted in major advances in the health of the public.

“However, society is evolving rapidly and new challenges are emerging that require a change in our understanding of public health,” she said.

“We need a public health system, and the research to support it, that takes account of the wide range of interacting factors that affect health to develop effective prevention measures that result in a healthier, fairer future for all,” she added.

The academy noted that such an approach will require a “new breed” of researchers, able to work far beyond the traditional boundaries of biomedical and public health research.

Academy of Medical Sciences

Nurses of future will need ‘new public health skills’

Anne Johnson

It will also require a workforce of health and social care professionals “with the skills to understand and tackle the many factors that create health problems”, said the academy.

Dame Anne said: “The public health leaders of tomorrow are the students of today. We must act now to create a healthcare and  research workforce equipped to collaborate with others not normally considered within public health, such as lawyers, architects, city planners, transport specialists, data scientists and programmers, engineers and climate scientists.

“These new public health leaders must be equipped with knowledge about how factors interlink to determine health,” she said.

The academy, with the support of medical research charity Wellcome, has launched a £1m funding programme to enable medical and social science researchers to address issues raised in the report by increasing understanding of the social, behavioural, political and cultural issues that contribute to health inequalities.

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