An on-going public health debate has been re-ignited: should fluoride be put into water supplies? NHS South Central, a strategic health authority in the UK, will decide in February 2009 whether fluoride ought to be introduced into the Southampton and south west Hampshire water supplies. Around 195,000 people would be directly affected, but many more would be indirectly affected as other health authorities and primary care trusts watch the final decision closely.1
The water fluoridation debate has been going on a long time. Does fluoride improve dental health? Does fluoride damage other aspects of health? Would it be cost-efficient? Is it ethical for the state to take personal choice away?
Currently around 5 million (11%) people in England receive artificially fluoridated water, mainly in the Birmingham, Tyneside and West Midlands areas.2
NHS South Central is involving as many people as possible in the debate. For example, they have commissioned reports from economists and clinical experts, and asked residents to share their views. As of 12th December 2008, 8,000 residents had responded, suggesting that many people have passionate views about fluoridation.3
Whilst involving so many people is bound to be informative and help the final decision, how many medical statisticians, if any, have been involved? There is a great scope for medical statisticians to inform public debates such as this, especially ones who can communicate research effectively to the many people involved from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Read more about the debate.