Fitter, happier, more productive
|I have a bad luck condition. Out of the blue bad luck. Sometimes it irks me when I see others abuse their precious health; in the same way that it irks me that I see folks fritter vast quantities of money away simply because they have something I don’t and I imagine, if I had it, I would use it more wisely.|
However, there is something that irks me far far more than that. From BBC News, Blair calls for lifestyle change.
"Ten per cent of NHS resources today are used to treat diabetes," he said. "By 2010 the estimate is that this could double.This is irresponsible rhetoric for several reasons.
The first is that such statistics are non-existent. It is possible to speculate about proportions of cases of Type 2 which may have been preventable, but sorry, there is no way that we can apply real numbers to this. We don’t understand why some folks get diabetes and other don’t; this condition is of unknown aetiology. Aetiology, Mr Blair; look it up. All we know about are risk factors.
There is almost certainly a genetic predisposition going on with diabetes. In Type 2, age is a massive risk factor - all those irresponsible folks surviving past sixty-five. There are various illnesses, surgical procedures and medicinal regimes that increase your risk. And clearly, obesity is a major risk factor or more precisely, the amount of fatty tissue in the abdominal cavity is a major risk factor. And obesity is a complex disease in itself. My two friends who developed Type 2 diabetes in their thirties were already disabled, which undoubtedly influenced the millions of individual decisions they made which may or may not have contributed to getting sick - or took those decisions right out of their hands.
How exactly the proportionate cost of diabetes could double within three and a half years, I really don't know, but we'll pretend that makes perfect sense.
Obviously, the idea behind this rhetoric is either to scapegoat and stigmatise people with diabetes or it is to persuade currently healthy people to take steps to prevent themselves getting ill in the future. We'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt...
But which of these two messages is more likely to effect your own lifestyle choices?
The point about most of the risk-taking we do is that it is just that; risk-taking. Nobody knows for sure they are going to get ill if they take a particular course of action.
A proportion of people with diabetes brought it on themselves because they eat too much and don’t get enough exercise.
People calculate these risks using the information available to them as well as something called the optimistic bias; because actually, we’re not natural worriers and most people would rather think that they are not going to get sick. One of the ways that this operates is that we identify and emphasise the differences between ourselves and people who have acquired illness; those people got sick because they are more stupid, lazy, careless or selfish than I am; I will not get sick.
Talk about how other people have become ill, and even people in high-risk groups will disassociate themselves from those people; well, I am overweight, but those people who got sick must have been very overweight.
Of course, however much information we have about how to look after ourselves, the day we stop taking risks is the day we die. And I believe most of us do think about this and made our decisions accordingly. I know there are things I do to make myself feel better in the short term, but which cannot be doing me much good in the long term. Included in these are the five prescription items (none of this which is keeping me alive or benefitting my long term health) as well as various dietary stuff. Hopefully you will sympathise this because I am a tragic cripple, but I don't believe that I have more on my plate than other people; for me, it is pain and fatigue, for others it is stress, time constraints, poverty, etc., etc..
Of course some people make excuses for themselves (perhaps most of us), but since none of us can possibly determine this from the outside, we can’t make any judgement on individuals. And if we could, what could we do about it? We cannot physically prevent people from making bad choices. And we cannot punish people for their mistakes; chronic illness is disproportionate and entirely unjust as it is.
So to public health:
He argued that public health problems were "not, strictly speaking, public health problems at all".Some more words to look up. Epidemiology is the study of incidence and distribution of disease. Obesity (ICD-10 E65-68), alcoholism (ICD-10 F10-19), diabetes (ICD-10 E10-14) and the different varieties of sexually transmitted infections are all diseases. Statisticians might legitimately describe these things as endemic - or epidemic if the incidence is increasing. These can also be described as public health problems.
Smoking and “alcohol abuse” (if this phrase is taken to mean binge-drinking, for example) are indeed matters of individual lifestyle. The prevalence of these behaviours within our culture have an effect on our health. These can also be described as public health problems.
Poverty is also a major risk factor for almost every life-threatening disease there is. That can also be described as a public health problem. Just thought I would throw that in.
I know, I know. What is a Prime Minister to do?
First off, you can't blame sick people for being sick. Nobody chooses to be ill, certainly nobody deserves to be ill and the most anyone can say about almost any condition is that a person took a gamble and lost. There may have been quite compelling, even logical reasons for taking that gamble, or it might have been a very stupid thing to do. Every case is individual but nobody who is losing their sight through diabetes or gradually running out of oxygen because of a lifetime of smoking deserves to be told or treated as if they brought it on themselves.
Secondly - and perhaps more to the point - you can't blame the short-comings of the NHS on people who live less than healthy lifestyles. Talk to doctors, nurses and health-service managers - of course there will be exasperated by certain patients who refuse to mend their self-destructive ways, but my experience suggests that this won't be the first thing that comes to mind.
Thirdly, to improve the health of the nation...
Personally, I am in favour information which explains the precise relationship between cause and effect. Ideally, we would all get excellent human biology in schools and then everything else would be easy after that. Public information has tended to be ineffective because it fails to explain stuff; when a child is doing something naughty, it is sensible to say "Stop that at once!" but if you want the child to refrain from doing it again, you must explain why it is a bad idea.
More is perhaps less with public health information. Too much information, especially information which has the potential to cause worry, tends to confuse people. What's more, the message must be got across that people can get sick regardless of lifestyle. This week there has been a study to show that people with dark skin are more likely to die of skin cancer. One of the reasons for this may be that all this emphasis on the tan-craving pale folks who are more likely to get skin cancer may have lead us to believe that darker skins are not at any risk at all.
The NHS needs... uh, don't ask me.
All sorts of social problems, which can be affected by legislation, lead to unhealthy lifestyles. Poverty and social inequality being a very big deal - okay, so it is relative; few people are starving in this country, but then by the same token, there's nothing wrong with our nations health compared to most other parts of the world.
Otherwise, I think we should try to appreciate what we have got, but also appreciate its fragility. Illness and death are inevitable parts of life - the latter, defines what life is. If people value their lives and value their health, then they will act accordingly - or not, but since there's nothing any of us can sensibly do to coerce one another, that's something we'll just have to accept.