Anti-Social Behaviour Is a Health Issue and Should Be Tackled from That Perspective

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Byline: By Madeleine Brindley Western Mail

This is an important year for public health. The long-awaited ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces will come into effect in the spring and the age for the legal purchase of cigarettes will be increased from 16 to 18 years later in the year.

And, thanks to Jamie Oliver, among others, the new epidemic of overweight and obesity is beginning to be taken seriously.

But what about the epidemic of crime and anti-social behaviour?

There is no question that this epidemic is being taken seriously at the highest levels because the populace demand it. But is it being taken seriously enough as a public health problem as well as a law and order one?

The answer is almost certainly not.

So, why should it be taken seriously as a public health issue? What is the link between crime and anti-social behaviour on the one hand and public health?

In fact they are linked at three distinct levels.

Clearly, victims of crime suffer negative health effects, psychological, physical or more usually both, but fortunately, even with the current epidemic, being a victim of crime or anti-social behaviour is still comparatively rare so the overall impact is relatively small, though it may not seem to be so on a Saturday evening in a busy Accident and Emergency department.

Then there is the fear of crime. The notion that this is a problem in its own right emerged during the 1970s from the results of victimisation surveys in the US.

The prevalence of fear of crime in Britain has been estimated from time to time including via the British Social Attitudes Survey. A third of women and a quarter of men report that worries about crime affect their everyday lives with older age groups being more fearful than younger ones.

Interestingly, young men are the least fearful of crime even though they are the most likely victims. They are, of course, also the most likely perpetrators.

So fear of crime is a major cause of anxiety and restricts social and other activities. It is thus a major detractor from health and well-being. …