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The approach to, and opportunities for, the promotion of a healthy diet are not the same as those for smoking

According to modern views on health promotion, prevention is particularly effective if the interventions rely on an integrated approach. Such an approach not only addresses people directly about their personal behaviour, but also modifies the physical and social environment in such a way as to encourage desirable behaviour and discourage undesirable behaviour.

This form of integrated approach is probably the key success factor in the United States’ reduction of smoking. A similar approach is now being used in the Netherlands. The approach entails a combination of health-related information about stopping smoking, pricing measures, smoking bans in public places, other legislation and a shift in social norms.

There is close cooperation between health institutes, the government, industry and the scientific field, and interventions are adapted to the ‘settings’ which are important to children and adults, such as school and the workplace. Much can be learned from interventions to discourage smoking. However, it must be realized that there are marked differences with regard to diet and eating habits.

In the case of smoking, there is a clear and unequivocal message: it is bad for you and for the people around you. While a person’s overweight may cause some concern or inconvenience to others – as in prolonged or regular sick leave, greater nursing requirements or in the surgical situation – our eating habits are largely based on the necessity of eating, and are unlikely to cause any real harm to others.

The promotion of health

Accordingly, the relationship between the government and the production industry is different. In the case of smoking, the government’s health promotion activities are diametrically opposed to the financial interests of the tobacco industry.

Last words

In the case of food, the government actually needs the industry to produce healthy products which are appropriate to a healthy diet, while at the same time, that government must contend with an industry which currently produces and promotes many unhealthy products.

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