Becky Pollard has been appointed as Bristol City Council’ s new Director of Public Health and will be starting in her new role on 16 February. Bristol Woman talks to Becky about health inequality and public heath interventions for women.
Becky, in your view, what are the biggest health inequalities Bristol is struggling with? Why do you think that is?
I believe these are the persistent inequalities of life expectancy due to underlying determinants of health. There is a gap in life expectancy between men and women living in Bristol compared to the rest of England. Men in Bristol can expect to live until 78.3 years compared to 82.1 years for rest in England. For women, life expectancy is 83 years in Bristol compared to nearly 86 years for rest in England. Not only that, but there are stubborn inequalities in life expectancy between different geographical areas within the city. Men can expect to live 8.2 years longer in the least deprived 10% areas compared to those in the most deprived 10% areas and for women it is 6.1 years. The reasons for these differences in how long people live between different groups of population are complex and interlinked. They are caused by a number of factors including income, employment, educational attainment, a person’s genetic makeup and lifestyles.
A poor start in life can affect health in later life – it’s important we promote the health of mothers and babies from pre-birth throughout childhood and adolescence. Examples are supporting pregnant women to stop smoking, encouraging all women to breast feed, offering parenting support for vulnerable parents and promoting effective readiness for school programmes. It’s important to help children and young people maximise their capabilities and control over their lives through encouraging high aspirations at school and developing their knowledge and skills to gain employment.
We need to support the mental health development of children and young people so they have personal resilience and the skills for healthy living. It’s vital that everyone has access to and can afford healthy foods and is able to access services and support systems to promote good health and wellbeing such as leisure services, access to parks and green spaces.
Good social networks and community support services benefit both physical and mental health.
The main causes of early death are due to cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases. These are all affected by unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, excess alcohol intake, poor diet and physical inactivity. Healthier choices can be easier choices if there are healthy environments such as smoke free homes and cars, affordable healthy food and accessible preventive health care and screening programmes, such as NHS health checks.
What is your vision for public health interventions for women in Bristol in the next few years?
To reduce child poverty and support mothers to help their children achieve good levels of development by the end of the school reception.
To reduce sexual and violent crimes against women and sexual exploitation.
To tackle excess use of alcohol and other substance misuse.
To promote the uptake of cervical and breast screening programmes in those groups with poorest uptake and increase childhood immunisations uptake (particularly MMR and HPV) and flu vaccinations in the over 65s.
How can women in Bristol support you in achieving this vision?
We can all help promote health and wellbeing – as mothers, daughters, carers, friends, family members as well as work colleagues and employers. We can offer support and advice by listening to and acting on public health messages. Most importantly, as women we need to look after our own health and wellbeing. If you had a magic wand and could change one thing for women in Bristol right now, what would it be? Develop tolerant and inclusive local communities and networks that actively reach out and support those most vulnerable in our society.
Illustration: Laura Lewis
Photo: Bristol City Council