Members of parliament on the permanent parliamentary committee of VWS rarely use words that refer to lifestyle such as smoking, or to social determinants such as ‘low literacy’ or ‘getting by’. ‘This suggests that they don’t talk much about the underlying causes of diseases’, says Jeroen van Baar of the Trimbos Institute, one of the researchers of this remarkable study, which was recently published in SSM Population Health.
‘As researchers in public health, we know that social determinants and lifestyle determine the development of health problems. If we want to prevent people from getting sick, we should focus on that. We wondered to what extent politicians at a national level are concerned with the underlying causes of illness,’ says Van Baar, researcher at the Trimbos Institute in the field of mental health. To investigate this, they analyzed 773 transcribed debates, in the period between 2008 and 2022, by means of a computer-automated analysis.
Left and right parties
The analysis shows that 2.8 percent of the contributions were about lifestyle topics, while about 1.3 percent were about social determinants. Another result of the study was that left-wing parties often talk about social determinants, while right-wing politicians talk more often about lifestyle factors. ‘This is consistent with the idea that right-wing parties more often regard having good health as an individual responsibility, while left-wing parties also include other determinants.’
So what were the MPs talking about? Van Baar: ‘In particular, topics such as the health care system and the financing of health care were the subject of discussion within the VWS committee. Possibly other parliamentary committees, such as Social Affairs and Employment, are discussing these determinants, and the relationship with public health is being established.’