Are you ready to take responsibility?

1. January 2019.

We are living in an era of self-destructive behavior.

Our longing for an effortless life, free from physical exertion and abundant in fast, energy–rich and nutritionally impoverished food comes with a high price tag. In the last four decades, the excess of calories consumed compared to calories expended has tripled the prevalence of overweight and obesity worldwide¹, resulting in a sharp increase of related chronic illnesses (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer), disabilities, and deaths, with exploding socio-economic costs in terms of medical care, sick leaves, and worksite absenteeism².

Without any doubt, we are the most comfortable generation that ever lived on this planet, sacrificing our health, well-being and productivity on the altar of our luscious lives. Even when we start to feel the consequences of our self-destructive behavior, we usually start blaming the scale, the shrinking laundry, the kids, and the weather, soothing our emotional discomfort with intensified compensatory eating, excessive drinking or smoking. Once we realize that passive worrying and blaming our circumstances is not going to solve the problem, most of us already give up and turn to the health care industry for salvation.

We are running the system of “sick” care, not “health” care

Unfortunately, the health care industry is not keeping us healthy, but is turning obesity and related diseases into new business opportunities: diet pills, heart bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgeries. Indeed, the medical industry has perfected the art of keeping its customers alive after their western lifestyle has made them sick, and it certainly has little or no interest in shrinking its own customer base. As a consequence, we spend more than ever on health care, while at the same time, being more sick and unhealthy than ever.

Prescription over education and prevention

So let’s get real: the health care industry prioritizes profit over people, prescription over education and prevention. In reality, we are running a system of sick care, not health care; we prefer to treat patients after they get sick than to provide them with services and opportunities designed to kee them from ever becoming patients in the first place.

Today, some 40% of deaths are caused by behavior patterns that could be modified by preventive interventions, such as diets, physical activity, non-consumption of tobacco, alcohol etc³. If we ever want to overcome the sickening business model of making fortunes with disease while letting patients and the general society bear the costs, we finally need to move to a business model that embraces the social determinants of health. We need to create health industries, medical professions and environments that are based on prevention, not cure, and that focus on keeping people in their community rather than in hospitals.

Ultimately, however, even preventive environments will not help if we do not individually take responsibility for our own behaviour. Let’s face it: Our life, our health, our happiness and our satisfaction are our responsibility and ours alone. We may not be able to make the rain stop, but it is our responsibility to go for a run nonetheless. We may not be able to avoid stress at work, but it is our responsibility not to drown resulting anxieties in excessive consumption of chocolate. And it is all right to occasionally watch movies that keep you on the edge with suspense, but this does not mean you necessarily have to indulge in excesses of popcorn, sweets and soft drinks until “happy end” has been declared.

Are you ready to take the responsibility?

For the absolute majority of us, our health and our productivity is what we choose it to be. As long as we keep blaming others or our circumstances, or try to outsource our responsibility to a health care industry focused on drawing profit from disease, we will see ourselves as victims unable to respond to the challenges of our modern world. Without ‘response-ability’, however, we are predestined to fail. We may have all the right arguments and excuses but, deep inside, we will always know we have just chosen the easier way, deluding ourselves that we are actually comfortable being increasingly uncomfortable.

The plain and simple truth is that your life is your responsibility, and that your power to change it for the better is only a decision away.

Are you ready?

Dr. Katarina Melzer