Primary care trusts must invest more in expertise in social marketing and profiling, a King’s Fund report recommends.

Commissioning and Behaviour Change: kicking bad habits is based on a year-long programme of research by the think tank into how people can be convinced to live more healthily.

Its first recommendation is for better use of geodemographics – the profiling of populations based on where they live – and marketing techniques.

“Understanding how to use social marketing tools and having reliable data on local needs are vital first steps to finding solutions,” the report says.

“Investment should be made in developing these skills among PCT staff and in improving both the quality and the quantity of data on local public health needs that they use in their work.”

The report says public health campaigns should include a range of techniques, such as incentives and information, simultaneously.

“Health behaviour is complex, and is determined by more than just an individual’s level of knowledge. Providing information has much greater impact when it is part of a wide range of activities that promote healthier choices.”

Unhealthy habits

King’s Fund policy director Anna Dixon, one of the authors of the report, said: “The methods used to promote public health need to be more modern, using the most advanced techniques and technologies.

“The reasons people persist with unhealthy habits are complex. It is often about changing deep-rooted social habits that can become addictive, rather than just helping people make better choices as individuals.”

The report also recommends programmes should always be evaluated to support future work, that staff should be more proactive in promoting healthy behaviour and that government departments and local agencies’ efforts should be better co-ordinated.