RSPH and the Health Foundation have unveiled the winners of their dystopian short story competition, Health: From Here to Where?

The competition invited authors to imagine the future consequences for individuals and society if health inequalities persist. They were challenged to write about the social and commercial factors that contribute to these inequalities – such as education, housing and our surroundings.  

The winners are: 

  • What You Want by Tim Byrne, in which a boy is kept from his homework by an interactive advert in the shape of a virtual dog intent on selling him unhealthy snacks
  • Runner-up: The Surgery by Natasha Wynne, in which obesity has been criminalised and cheap backstreet weight loss surgery seems to be the only answer for the desperate
  • Runner up: Sky Park by Lis Maimaris, in which two girls are shocked to discover they live in segregated and contrasting worlds, one obesogenic and the other ostensibly health-promoting

With recent statistics revealing that the most deprived people in the UK can now expect 19 fewer healthy life years than their least deprived peers, RSPH and the Health Foundation hope these stories will encourage people, especially the young, to think about how these trends can be reversed.

As NHS managers ask for an extra £350 million cash injection to cope with pressure on services this winter, there has never been a more pressing time to refocus the debate away from illness towards prevention and the social and commercial determinants of health.

 

What You Want features dramatic story illustrations by Gin Lane 2016 artist Thomas Moore, and is also available as an audio recording, voiced by BAFTA-nominated actor Michael Sheen. All three stories will soon be available as a limited edition print booklet.

Tweet your reactions using #FromHereToWhere.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “We were delighted by the response to this competition, which inspired almost 100 amateur and professional authors to imagine how our future may look if we do not act with urgency to address the social, economic and environmental factors that shape our health outcomes every day. That future is not pretty, and I invite young people and policy makers alike to read and be challenged by Tim Byrne’s worthy winner, as well as two excellent runners-up, and think about what must be done to change our fate. These stories starkly illustrate how, in health, prevention is about more than asking people to change their lifestyle behaviours. Ultimately, it is about creating environments, social and economic conditions that enable everyone – regardless of background – to maximise their health and wellbeing.”

Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy at the Health Foundation, said: “This has been a fascinating project to be involved in and one that we hope will shine a spotlight on health inequalities within our society and the factors that affect our overall wellbeing and health. While the stories featured in our competition focus on a dystopian vision, the outlook for the future does not have to be so inevitable. A key element will be to understand how young people’s health outcomes are determined, which is why we have recently launched an inquiry into young people’s wellbeing and health. The social and commercial factors that influence our health are complex, yet if we improve our knowledge and understanding then we can start to find tangible solutions to address the public health challenges of the future.”

Receiving his prize, winning author Tim Byrne said: “I entered the contest because I wanted to speak up for young people about the difficulty of making choices in the digital age. A future where tantalising, persuasive messages pervade and augment our experience of reality is already at hand. After working in both digital technology and education I’m particularly excited that this story has a chance to reach more people. I think that seizing the opportunity to reflect on your choices and focus on what you really want is a great starting point for taking control of your life and driving positive changes in society.”

Runner-up Natasha Wynne said: “Though we hear stories about things like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the news, there's rarely an engaging exploration of the role social and economic factors play in determining health and illness, or what this means for prevention. This competition has opened up a space to rethink the usual narrative about an ever looming health crisis in this country, and it's a real privilege to have my story chosen to contribute to this important work. Hopefully these stories will lead people to question and challenge the often hidden causes of ill health, while being an enjoyable read too.”

Runner-up Lis Maimaris added: “I am absolutely thrilled to be a runner up; the competition brief was instantly inspiring. I’m fascinated by the idea of obesogenic environments that encourage us to be unhealthy – making it hard to walk or play or choose healthy foods – and the growth of technology which allows us to access what we need without leaving our sofas. The story grew out of an extreme vision of this, and also the opposite – a world where policies about health have become too controlling. I love that RSPH and the Health Foundation are using the creative arts to make people more aware of issues surrounding health.”