The improvement in health since 2008 in Devon’s population is visible –with overall reductions in mortality rates and dying young – premature mortality – demonstrating the impact of prevention, early detection and health care. Underlying this is an unequal spread of health, wellbeing and disease. Socio-economic deprivation is strongly associated with ill-health and income is probably the most important determinant of future good health. Health and wellbeing can be influenced by factors other than income such as removing causes of ill-health (for example smoking, lack of physical activity, poor diet, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, poor mental health), preventing communicable and non-communicable diseases (such as immunisation and screening programmes), and detecting and treating disease early (for example coronary heart disease, lung diseases, diabetes, cancer). Many lifestyle factors are affected by the society in which we live and these social influences can be considerable – as manifested by the increase in overweight and obesity on children and adults, and the recent increase in deaths due to alcoholic liver disease. In Devon, good overall progress has been made on causes of ill health and there are some compelling examples of targeted preventive interventions which have narrowed the inequality gap, although this has not yet been demonstrated in a reduction in the mortality gap. The evidence suggests that, for health care organisations, the “inverse care law” persists in Devon, where those people who have the greatest need for health services are the least likely to access them.
This year’s priorities for the health of people in Devon are:
- Continuing to reduce health inequality across Devon, ensuring that the needs of our most vulnerable or unhealthy populations are being met, and that health care commissioners are able to evidence this.
- Improving levels of physical activity and the proportion of people at a healthy weight, and promoting the Mediterranean diet to improve health.
- Reducing excessive, harmful alcohol consumption.
- Reducing the proportion of people in Devon who still smoke and preventing young people from starting smoking.
- Ensuring all children have the best possible start in life.
- Improving mental health and emotional wellbeing, particularly in children and young people.
- Working to prevent domestic and sexual violence and abuse, and the sexual exploitation of children and young people.
- Detecting and preventing the onset of chronic (long term) health conditions.
- Increasing the early detection and improving the treatment of cancer.
Increasing social connectivity in communities to reduce social isolation and loneliness, and increasing the opportunities we have to improve our own health and wellbeing