Should Public Health be Like Disneyland?

Posted: 18th February 2011

Last week I delivered a keynote presentation to the North West Health and Physical Activity Forum's annual conference in Preston. The theme was 'Innovation', and with the backdrop of so much public sector uncertainty and anxiety, yet with so much do deliver on this agenda, their theme could not have been more appropriate.

My topic was why I think Public Health should be more like Disneyland and less like your local bank... I explored the short-term, positive and certain benefits offered to visitors to Disney's Magic Kingdom and contrasted it against the long-term and uncertain benefits we tend to focus on too much when we are promoting healthy behaviour change. People like to "Buy Now and Pay Later". It's hard-wired into us and human beings to prefer more immediate pay offs over future benefits. Too many health improvement messages are based on absence of ill health decades into the future.

I described how we all have a virtual NHS credit card with which we can buy unhealthy behaviours such as smoking cigarettes, binge drinking, eating unhealthy foods and remaining sedentary; all things we may enjoy in the short term but things that may cost us in the long-run.

I drew parallels between our traditional health improvement approach and that of selling savings accounts. Not just any old savings accounts, but those of the worst kind, where your savings are tied up for decades and there's no guarantee on return.

We looked at the approach Disney take to making sure their visitors have an amazing experience. In Walt Disney's own words, an experience that is " good they will want to come again and bring their friends."

I followed up the presentation with a break-out session where I asked the question, "Imagine Walt Disney is going to be your new boss, what changes might he be making...?"

I was asked if I really believed that Disneyland is answer to the NHS. Honestly, no, this is just an exercise in bringing our thoughts towards delivering fantastic service user experiences and in changing our long-term "investment" approach to one which is more about great short-term benefits.

One table did come up with a genius answer: "If Walt Disney was our new boss, he'd sack all the miserable people and make us audition for our jobs." Employment tribunals aside, it was an interesting idea!

If anyone would like a PDF copy of the slides I used for the presentation, email me at

There were other superb keynote's from Dr Ruth Hussey from the Department of Health, Dr Harry Rutter from the National Obesity Observatory and Dr Charlie Foster from the British Heart Foundation. This is one of the first conferences I'd been to where they encouraged people to keep their phones on... and Tweet using the tag #nwhpaf. Click here to see Twitter comments about the day...


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