Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2015: Call to Action

Everyone has a role in building a health creating society

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 16 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6654
  1. Nigel Crisp, independent member, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW, London
  1. crisp{at}

Nigel Crisp outlines a long term vision for the future of a healthy society

The World Health Organization in Europe has said that modern societies actively market unhealthy lifestyles.1 What if they actively marketed healthy lifestyles instead? How could we begin to build a health creating society, with all sectors working towards a healthy and resilient population?1 2

In November I introduced a debate in the House of Lords on this topic, in an attempt to start to build the political will needed for change. Much of what we talked about was not new, although recent advances in our understanding of social determinants of health, better evidence of what works and of the potential role of technology, and a greater willingness to learn from other countries are all very important. Timing, however, is crucial, and I think the time has come to really make a difference. A profound shift in thinking is under way, globally influenced by people such as Michael Marmot in the United Kingdom and Amartya Sen, Ilona Kickbusch, Julio Frenk, Maureen Bisognano, K Srinath Reddy, and Francis Omaswa around the world.

Whose business?

Health and care systems are under great strain globally, as needs grow—particularly from older people with long term conditions—and costs rise. Not surprisingly, there is widespread concern and confusion about the future of health. This uncertainty and insecurity make it more important than ever to understand the complex nature of health problems—and what can be done about them—and to set out a long term vision and strategy for the future.

Health problems are complex, and they go beyond the reach of the NHS, the government, and patients themselves. They affect all ages. Barely half of all children achieve a “good level of development” by the time they start school, which affects their future physical …

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