Intended for healthcare professionals


Bold action is needed to strengthen primary prevention

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 15 March 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p595
  1. Petra Meier, professor of public health1,
  2. Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, professor of public health and health inequalities1,
  3. Katherine Smith, professor of public health policy2
  1. 1MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, School of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2School of Social Work and Social Policy, University of Strathclyde, Strathclyde, UK
  1. Correspondence to: P Meier petra.meier{at}

The case for prevention is undeniable, if politicians choose to hear it

Primary prevention tackles the underlying causes of ill health, preventing or substantially delaying onset, reducing the burden of disease in populations, and helping individuals live longer, healthier lives. In turn, this reduces pressure on health and social care systems. Primary prevention promotes health equity by addressing the unequal distribution of the social, economic, environmental, and commercial determinants of health—for example, through reducing poverty, regulating air quality, or taxing unhealthy commodities.1 It also makes economic sense: it is often more cost effective to prevent disease than to treat it, saving healthcare systems and individuals money while maintaining people’s capacity to work.2

It is therefore welcome that England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, recently stated that action on primary prevention is a political choice and called on ministers and local leaders to be bold in enacting policies that tackle the root causes of ill health.3 For a government official, these are strong words.

Yet it is hard to see how he could come to any other conclusion, when the UK government seems so reluctant to …

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