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Virtual checks to become a reality

Schools will play a key part in improving the nation's health, with support from a new Internet Web site, the Government says in its new public health Green Paper.

The consultation paper, Our Healthier Nation, names schools, the workplace and the neighbourhood as the three most important settings where the Government will attempt to close the growing health divide between the rich and the poor.

It says good schools not only teach children about the body, healthy eating and the benefits of exercise, but also raise their self-esteem, making them more confident and able to make the most of life's opportunities - and therefore make healthier choices.

The paper backs the Healthy Schools Initiative in raising the awareness of pupils, parents and the community of health issues, with special mention for parenting lessons and teaching children a responsibility to themselves and others. It also underlines the role of school nurses and health visitors.

A new Web site, Wired for Health, is being set up to give children and teachers "straight facts on health at the touch of a button", the Department of Health says.

Labour is committed to improving public health through a focus on expanding community-based health services and promoting healthier lifestyles - but also by tackling the causes of poor health including, crucially, poverty. The Conservatives were reluctant to consider a link between poverty and poor health.

But the Green Paper has been criticised for cutting the health targets adopted by the previous government - modelled on the World Health Organisation's 39 Health for All targets - to just four key indicators, covering deaths from heart disease, accidents, cancer and suicide.

A White Paper will follow in the summer.

Our Healthier Nation is available price Pounds 10.30 from The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-10-138522-6.

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