Warning over failing health of the nation

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The Independent Online
Two big killers - lung cancer and skin cancer - are set to become more common in future because the Government is failing to reach the targets laid down in its Health of the Nation White Paper, MPs warned yesterday.

The all-party Public Accounts Committee said it was "dismayed by the rise in teenage smoking", which would have "consequent ill-effects on the population, including the incidence of cancer and vascular disease".

Health of the Nation, published in 1992, aimed to reduce smoking among 11-15-year-olds by at least a quarter, from 8 per cent to 6 per cent of the age group by 1994. In fact, it went in the opposite direction, increasing by a half, to 12 per cent.

MPs called on the Department of Health, with the Department of the Environment and the Department for Education and Employment, to explore what further action could be taken to reverse this trend.

Members noted the "steep year-on-year rise to 1988 in cases of skin cancer and, although these trends appeared to have levelled off up to 1992, the latest information showed a further rise". Noting that most cases are avoidable, they "urged the Department to consider what more can be done to reduce the incidence of this disease through further improve- ments in health education".

The department had made progress, however, on 11 out of 27 targets, moving in the right direction on cancer of the cervix and breast, heart disease, stroke and teenage pregnancy.

The nation was getting fatter and lazier, which members feared would have a knock-on effect on future rates of heart disease. The White Paper had recommended male obesity should come down by a quarter and female obesity by a third.

Finally, the committee also expressed its concern at the rise in drinking among women - one in seven were now drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week, double the target set in Health of the Nation - and the rising suicide rate among Asian women.

Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association, said that more drastic action was needed to combat ill- health. On the failure to meet obesity targets, he urged positive measures to improve traffic safety and reduce street crime so adults and children could walk to work and school.