Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Conservatives were accused of putting corporate interests ahead of public health last week following a decision by the government to postpone its plans on cigarette packaging.

The Tories decision followed a vote in the European Parliament last week at which Labour MEPs today voted for 75% of packaging on cigarette products to be covered in graphic warnings, and a ban on menthol and other flavourings, as well as slims and ‘lipstick packs’, which target young people.

The statistics are clear and make a convincing argument, almost 50% of smokers will die from a smoking related disease and tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable premature deaths across Europe. More than 700,000 people a year die in the European Union as a result of smoking and 70% of those started smoking before the age of 18.

It costs the NHS millions every year and is therefore a significant public health issue, though evidently not to the Tories. We should seek ways to make smoking less attractive to young people, with a variety of flavours available, and ‘elegant’ slim packaging.

The human cost and misery which causes terrible illnesses must not be underestimated.

However, health minister Jeremy Hunt is awaiting the results of an experiment in Australia where, even despite colleagues saying they had been personally persuaded of the effectiveness of such a move.

Awaiting research is an odd decision since The Department of Health’s own research shows that plain packaging is less attractive, especially to young people, and improves the effectiveness of health warnings. Yet last week George Osborne said: “[We need to] take our time to get the right decision.” But who must the decision be right for?

The Observer dedicated its editorial to the plans, or rather postponed plans, which you can read here.

You couldn’t fail to be moved by the presence of 16-year-old Shot Pakistan schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. She addressed the UN and said she was there to “speak up for the right of education of every child”.

Malala told the UN during her speech that books and pens scare extremists, as she urged education for all. She made other powerful statements and said “efforts to silence her had failed.” Following her attack by the Taliban, and to a standing ovation she said their actions had only made her more resolute.

You can see her speech and read more here.

We must recognise the far reaching economic burden of osteoporosis

Labour Party

Today I spoke at a meeting organised to discuss the fight against Osteoporosis at the European Level.

This is an issue that I have been working on for ten years in my position as co-chair of the European Parliament Osteoporosis Interest Group.

The meeting was organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation  (IOF). The IOF work to improve the available knowledge on prevention, diagnosis and treatment and raise awareness of the disease and its effects.

Osteoporosis is a debilitating chronic disease. It is debilitating on an individual level and is debilitating for the public health services of Member States. This is an issue that I have blogged about several times before; you can read my most recent blog here.

One of the many things we discssed at the meeting was the 2011 International Osteoporosis Foundation report which presents some shocking statistics. Here are some of the most striking:

• The total health burden of osteoporotic fractures, measured in quality-adjusted life years (QALY) lost, was estimated at approximately 850,000 QALYs accross 6 countries
• The health care cost, including pharmacological prevention, was estimated at Euro 30.7 billion – corresponding to 3.5% of the total spending on health care in those countries
• A majority of the total costs was for the acute management of fracture whilst pharmacological prevention and treatment only represented 4.7% of total costs
• Despite the existence of management guidelines, a minority of patients receive medical treatment to prevent fractures
• In 2025 the projected number of fractures will increase by 29% reaching 3.2 million fractures, with health care costs increasing to Euro 38.5 billion
• The economic burden of osteoporotic fractures in these countries exceeds those for migraine, stroke, MS, and Parkinson’s disease, and is similar to the burden of rheumatoid arthritis

Decision makers must take into account the far reaching effects of this disease when determining their public health agenda. This is truer than ever in the current period of economic crisis. To be as effective and successful as possible action should centre around a coordinated public health approach.

Policies need to be targeted at providing better education and information about people’s risk vis a vis osteoporosis and the steps they can take to reduce it. A culture of awareness needs to be developed amongst the general public, building on the work that organisations such as the IOF have already begun.

Today’s event provided a forum for discussion of these issues and how we can move forward in a concerted action against this disease. Osteoporosis is not just the burden for people with the disease, but needs to be recognised as a burden for everyone in society.