We all know we should eat less, exercise more, stop smoking and drink less alcohol. But we all ask: where is the fun in that?

Our public health professionals have been banging the drum about healthy lifestyles for years. Yet our messages appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Sadly, our reluctance to heed their advice is having a dramatic impact on the nation's health and happiness. It also means the NHS budget will have to grow inexorably to keep pace with treating conditions and illnesses that are the direct result of our lifestyle choices.

Diabetes, coronary heart disease, liver disease, numerous types of cancer, and orthopaedic complaints such as chronic backache and knee problems can often be attributed to poor diet, excess alcohol, lack of exercise, or smoking.

Primary care trusts across the country have been aware of these issues for years. We have invested heavily in providing a wide range of services, in hospitals and in the community, to treat and care for people with health conditions that ruin the quality of their lives. But do what we might, it seems we are struggling to halt the march towards ill health.

Top priority

For all PCTs, lifestyle issues are quickly moving to the top of the agenda. In East Lancashire, where we have more than our fair share of health problems, we had our road to Damascus moment in 2006 when statistics showed that, for the first time ever, there were some areas on our patch where children's life expectancy was less than their parents. Health inequalities were diverging rather than converging.

In 2007, we made health inequalities our number one challenge, with a vow to save a million years of life by 2012. We recognise that ill health is not just about the NHS, so we have developed even stronger partnerships with our colleagues in social services, education, the police, the fire service, the voluntary sector, and the private sector. We are all marching in the same direction, with the same objective, but will it work?

I sincerely believe what we are doing will have an impact because we are all passionate about making a difference. But I know we will only take a quantum leap forward if we can persuade people to take responsibility for their own health and well-being.

Anyone who has ever given up smoking, lost weight or cut down on alcohol will tell you that they had to want to do it. Preaching does no good at all. However, we can help by giving people information that spurs them into action.

Reaching out

To that end, we have invested in two hard-hitting health awareness campaigns that reach people through media such as public advertisements, direct mail, online campaigns and text messaging. Information will be provided at schools, pubs, social clubs, GP surgeries, pharmacies, health centres and on the streets.

"Know when to say when" aims to encourage people to drink sensibly - not to stop drinking altogether, but to stop dangerous levels of drinking that can lead to serious social and health problems.

"Could it be you?" raises the profile of our biggest killer, coronary heart disease, and tells people what they can do to protect themselves.

The images and headlines for both campaigns are startling. They are meant to be.The alcohol campaign depicts the many outcomes of excessive drinking: death, violence, crime, unwanted pregnancy and obesity. The coronary heart disease campaign shows a bereaved child at her father's funeral, as well as someone undergoing open-heart surgery.

Strong stuff? Yes, it is. But this is what local people told us would make them stop and think - or even better, stop, think and change old habits. We talked to people of all ages, from all walks of life, and our campaigns are the direct result of their feedback. We will be talking to them again in six months' time to find out if the campaigns have had an impact. We will also be measuring hits on the campaign websites, calls to helpline numbers and additional referrals to our services.

Is this a nanny state? No, it is not. But we are here to point people in the right direction and to make sure that when they decide to make the right choices we have the right services at ward and street level to help them.