I completed another lap around the sun this month. The world has changed a lot in the last 47 years, we’ve created a world that makes it hard for us to be healthy. If you have time and money – it’s easier. But health should be for everyone – regardless of social status.
We spend more than ever on health care, we’ve made fantastic leaps forward in our understanding of genomics, biotechnology and medical devices and we’ve made impressive pharmaceutical breakthroughs. Despite all of this, we have an emerging crisis of modern, avoidable disease: 40% of us are obese and another 32% are overweight.
That means 72% of us are overweight or obese. Or put another way, 28% of us are a healthy weight. If you’re a healthy weight, you’re in the minority. Being overweight or obese is the new norm. And once something like this becomes normal, it starts to become normalised. You begin to get used to what’s in front of you. You accept it. And you stop fighting it.
In the 60s the average man in a developed country weighed 166lb. Today he weighs 195lb. The average woman weighed 140lb. Today she weighs 166lb. Before I was born (and I’m not THAT old) less than 2% of the population had type 2 diabetes. Today, around 8% of us have it.
The rise of diabetes and the weight gain aren’t two isolated factors. This is no coincidence. The weight gain is driving the rise in type 2 diabetes. The weight gain is driving illness.
What’s causing the weight gain?
Around 80% of us don’t get the recommended 2.5 hours per week of physical activity and fewer than 5% of us get 30 minutes per day.
It’s a funny word ‘recommended’. It makes something seem optional and not really necessary. My local traffic authority ‘recommends’ pedestrians wear high vis. I, like every other person I saw on my morning walk today, ignored this advice and wore what felt comfortable. The world is full of overzealous recommendations and as a consequence, most of us mostly ignore them most of the time.
But the recommendations that scientists make about getting enough exercise are different. Not following them has serious consequences. And it’s recommended – with very sound evidence – that we need to get outside and move. It’s essential for our physical and mental health. Yet on average we spend almost 90% of our time indoors. In fact, we spend only marginally more time outdoors than we do IN OUR CARS.
The wrong choice is the easy choice.
It’s not that we lack the will or discipline or information. It’s that the world we’ve created makes healthy choices too hard for most people. Doing the wrong things feels so much easier than doing the right things. The healthy options seem more expensive and less visible. They’re more inconvenient and it seems that each year, the path to good health becomes a little more overgrown. Harder to find. We are getting lost.
Here’s an example. Our built environment looks like it was designed by a central authority in Detroit MI. The amount of space dedicated to cars – not just for driving, but on-street parking, leaves very little room for people wanting to ride a bicycle or walk safely. The right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. The consequence of this is, whenever we need to get anywhere, we get inside our cars and drive.
It’s not just exercise.
Sleeping is harder to do, too. Email, the Internet, iPads and phones are standard daily tools, but they creep into our evenings/nights. Is it any wonder that 1 in 3 people sleep less than 6 hours per night – again, well below the recommendation? We sit too much, we don’t connect with nature enough, we choose screens over sleep too often. The artificial cherry on top? We eat too much.
Cheap, calorific, processed foods are everywhere. The health food section of our supermarkets is maybe 1/20th of the store’s footprint and much of it isn’t actually ‘healthy’. We’re consuming 24% more calories per day compared to the year I was born – much more than we need, in a world that gives us little opportunity to burn them off. That extra energy turns into extra fat.
The struggle is real – but not for all of us.
If you have time and money and you’re in control of your schedule, then you’re probably on the path to good health. You can afford healthier foods. You can fit exercise into your day. You have the means to cook nutritious meals. You can choose to live in a leafy, walkable, well-lit, SAFE neighbourhood. You can afford a gym membership and a piece of wearable technology to give you the data you need to track things. You’re more likely to have access to child care that will give you opportunities to prioritise yourself.
Then there are people who DON’T have access to these things and STILL manage to sustain a healthy lifestyle. These people are outliers. The data indicates that there’s a strong correlation between income and health. The more money you have and the higher your social status, the healthier you’re likely to be.
I do believe that health comes down to personal responsibility. I’ve been saying for years that the crisis of modern avoidable disease is ultimately a crisis of personal responsibility. I also acknowledge, though, that we aren’t all equal when it comes to being able to take responsibility for our health.
HeadUp makes health available to everyone.
For most of us, the odds are not in our favour. That’s no reason to give up, though. It’s a reason to fight smarter. To find the easy wins. The little things we can do that will make the biggest difference.
Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from years of helping improve health at a population level, it’s this: we can ALL do more at an individual level. It’s just that many of us need a little help identifying those easy wins.
That’s why we built HeadUp. We want to add something to this world that makes healthy choices EASIER. We want to level the playing field. We want to give everyone a fair shot at making small changes – the type that when combined, add up to BIG improvements.
We want to democratise health. Because health shouldn’t be something that belongs to those who are wealthy enough to overcome modern-day hurdles. Health is for everyone. HeadUp is for everyone.