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Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services

First published:
27 November 2014
Last updated:

This was published under the 2011 to 2016 administration of the Welsh Government

Members will be aware of the pioneering and exciting work of the Caerphilly Study, led by Professor Peter Elwood. In September 1979, a research project was begun, following 2,500 men from Caerphilly and several nearby villages with the aim of reviewing the impact of a healthy lifestyle on their health.

The study focused on five lifestyle behaviours - not smoking; a low body mass; a healthy diet; regular physical activity and low alcohol consumption. The results of this long-term study are striking. 

They indicate that those men who adopted a healthy lifestyle - taking on four or five of those healthy behaviours - had a lower risk of certain chronic illnesses and premature mortality, compared with those men who followed none or just one of the behaviours. 
The study originally intended to just look at ischaemic heart disease but the data revealed other significant benefits including a 50% reduction in diabetes and the real “gold-dust” – as Prof Elwood describes it – a 60% reduction in dementia. Overall, a 60% reduction in premature mortality was measured in the group which adopted the healthy lifestyle behaviours. The evidence is clear – lifestyle choices influence the number of healthy years lived. 

To act in this way, as Prof Elwood puts it, is “better than any pill … and has no side effects.” 

On October 30, 2014 I was honoured to attend a landmark conference, hosted by Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, to mark the findings of 30 years of research in Caerphilly. The study has produced more than 400 papers in peer-reviewed journals and led to many important findings. 

I would like to commend the participants, the research team and specifically its clinical lead Prof Elwood. Of course, the study and its outputs have only been made possible through the commitment of the participants and the support they received from their wives, partners and families. It was a particular pleasure to meet some of the members of the Caerphilly cohort at the event and to mark their efforts and the contribution they have made to our learning and to wider public health. 

The success of the Caerphilly Study demonstrates clearly the importance and benefits of people in Wales participating in research. Knowledge generated from research can make a real difference to health outcomes and I would like to encourage more people to take part in research studies.

I have already highlighted in discussions about the future of the health service in Wales the need for both “prudent patients” and “prudent professionals”. The Caerphilly findings and evidence demonstrate the benefits and importance of prudent people and their health. There are things that legislators and Ministers can do through powers and policies across a whole range of competences; but lasting change will depend on what happens in families and in communities, most importantly by each one of us in Wales taking ownership of our own health and adopting healthy behaviours which can make such a difference to our health and wellbeing. 

If our NHS is to survive and thrive, we must adopt this type of approach, both inside and outside the health service. The NHS is there to help us in our time of need but with that comes a focus for all of us to act responsibly. There needs to be a new bargain – the NHS and others must do all they can to create the conditions in which people are able to protect their health but people – individuals, communities and families across Wales – must also face up to the challenge. Together we must avoid those harms which are so clearly avoidable.

Related Links:
Cardiff University’s Institute of Primary Care and Public Health includes a link to the Caerphilly Conference booklet, which issues an important challenge to the people of Wales: