I would imagine most people would be able to complete the saying; ‘an apple a day – keeps the doctor away’. It’s probably the most well known public health message and possibly a real windfall for the apple marketing association too.
It works because it is memorable, uses words we all understand and explains a potential benefit of doing something. Most of us know it because it has been passed down through generations by people we trust and respect.
From something we probably do know to something we might not. ‘Public Health’; I wonder how many of us know what it is or can explain it? And the term ‘wellbeing’, what about that? You only have to Google* ‘wellbeing’ to find out there are different spellings which to me is a sure sign of uncertainty.
Councils, amongst others, are now responsible for public health. That’s right; the organisation perhaps perceived as the one that empties bins, issues parking tickets and council tax bills, amongst the many other less well known or associated services, is also responsible for improving and maintaining health and changing views and behaviours on things like smoking, drinking, eating and other things.
It’s part of the ongoing changes to the national health and wellbeing agenda. Former NHS Public health colleagues now work with council staff who already play a part in helping those who are or may become less healthy because of various social issues.
When you think about it, councils and partner organisations have daily contact with so many people at various stages in their lives. Those services and information about them can have a massive impact on the wellbeing and health of people.
Across the country there are health and wellbeing strategies shaping work and awareness raising to help people be healthier and happier. Sometimes that’s not always easy to do or explain but important all the same to try and keep it simple.
Getting back to the apple a day saying, communications people like me get a bad feeling when we are asked to use words such as wellbeing. Much as we would perhaps like, some of them are not going to go away. We need to play a major role in ensuring all explanations and any calls to action really make sense. After all, how can people be expected to make decisions or change what they do if they don’t understand what is happening or what something means or why it may be of benefit for them?
These awkward words are gradually becoming part of our language, just like the words ‘doctor’ and ‘apple’ once did and *more recently like ‘Google’ has. If we didn’t know what a doctor was or did, the apple a day saying wouldn’t work.
So, an ongoing challenge is to explain terms such as public health and wellbeing so they are understood. And there lies another challenge, one of trusted sources. One link is to a perceived trusted source and the other might be seen as much less so, but actually they both do the job.
There might also be a perception that “the man or lady from the council is now telling me how to live my life; what do councils know about health?” Perhaps there’s a convincing job to do as well.