For a few days at the beginning of January, a wide swathe of the population wakes up to an uncomfortable truth: ‘I am less than I want to be’. Resolutions for change are commonplace if short lived. Actually, for a great many people, the truth could be more accurately declared, ‘I am more than I want to be – I need to lose weight!’. These feelings soon diminish. We only tend to bear them for a week or two in acknowledgment of the Christmas excess. Then we get on with life much as ever.
Public Health England just launched a campaign aimed at my age group in case the annual wake-up call fails to elicit sufficient change. The message is broadcast loud and clear: 83% of those aged 40 to 60 are overweight, drink too much or exercise too little. Two-thirds of deaths before the age of 75 are avoidable. Lifestyle improvements can make a real difference.
My question to myself was obvious – am I one of the regular 83% or the elite 17%? A handy online quiz was offered to help determine the uncomfortable truth…
Studies have shown that many people who are overweight genuinely do not realise it. There could be a number of psychological explanations for certain individuals, but the broader context in which we perceive our own weight is in relation to the size of others. If two-thirds of us bulge around the middle, then this is normal; the current average. Why would we count ourselves as over-anything if we are the same as most others?
Herein lies the familiar weakness of approaching people as individuals. We are all likely to settle for the norm. Eating, drinking, moving. Few us are remarkable. Some of us adopt healthier patterns through personal willpower or amongst other like-minded enthusiasts. It could be many more if there was sufficient motivation for collective action. But who can provide this motivation for whole communities?
Government finds this difficult, as does the medical profession. Leadership is key. If we want to pursue good health for ourselves, then we are far more likely to be successful if we are accompanied by others.
Leadership should therefore emerge from amongst us. Now that sounds like a real wake-up call.