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Wales faces unprecedented 'triple challenge' to health and wellbeing

Published: 1 October 2021

A new report published by Public Health Wales today is the first of its kind to study the cumulative impacts of Brexit, coronavirus and climate change together and their combined influences on health, wellbeing and inequalities in Wales. 

The paper examines a range of factors that will be impacted by the three challenges, including health, economic, social and security, mental wellbeing, environment and access to, and quality of services and highlights how this ‘triple challenge’ will have direct and indirect impacts on health behaviours of the population, for example, diet, nutrition, active travel and alcohol.  

The paper provides some discreet examples of how health can be impacted. A spotlight example on alcohol:  

  • Brexit – Future Trade Agreements (FTAs) could positively or negatively affect a nation’s ability to legislate or regulate for stronger alcohol, food or tobacco labelling standards and content. Increased regulation can also lead to increased pricing, with FTAs leading to challenges by manufacturers in respect to public health laws for labelling and pricing for example, Minimum Unit Pricing. 
  • Climate Change - evidence highlights an increase in temperature and heat-related extreme weather events can lead to increased alcohol consumption and poorer health outcomes. An increase in consumption is also detrimental to the environment, generating an average of 3 per cent of total diet-related Green House Gas emissions, and in sub-populations with the highest consumption this was up to between 6–11 per cent. 
  • Coronavirus - World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, would potentially increase alcohol consumption and therefore exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence. One year after the first lock down in Wales, 18 per cent of people reported consuming more alcohol than they did prior to the pandemic, which equates to approximately 445,000 adults and a recent report from England noted an increase of 21 per cent in alcoholic liver deaths during the year of the pandemic, accelerated by increased alcohol consumption during lockdowns. 

Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has revealed the complex, interwoven relationships between health, wellbeing, inequalities, the economy, the environment, and society as a whole. In doing so, it has created new inequalities, but also exacerbated existing health inequalities. Events such as the United Kingdom’s (UK) withdrawal from the European Union (EU) (‘Brexit’) and climate change are also having a cumulative impact on the Welsh population’s health and wellbeing. 

“The UK’s recovery from the pandemic needs to consider, and interact seamlessly, with the UK’s exit from the EU. It must also consider how to develop national and local resilience and provide support to many vulnerable industries and communities that are also facing the increasing challenge of climate change and extreme weather events.  Wales as a nation has to grapple with the multifaceted and evolutionary nature of Brexit, COVID-19 and climate change not only in isolation, but as a cumulative whole. This is further complicated by the fact that these are not static events and will ebb and flow over the short, medium and long term.  In short, Wales and the UK are facing an unprecedented ‘Triple Challenge’ that must be tackled in a coordinated fashion – one which considers the future of the planet and its population and identifies solutions to the well-being and economic challenges which Brexit and COVID-19 have brought sharply into focus.” 

‘Rising to the Triple Challenge of Brexit, COVID-19 and Climate Change for health, well-being and equity in Wales’ is a series of short reports that examine the individual and cumulative impacts of Brexit, coronavirus and climate change on health, well-being and equity in Wales and how these impacts are multifaceted, are not static and are likely to affect Wales in the immediate and long term. Two spotlight papers on food security and the effects on rural communities will follow this strategic overview.