Saturday, 11 June 2011

Choice and determinism

I haven’t written for quite some time, work has gotten in the way and I suppose, like a nun who’s been shrunk, I’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s true that I’ve also become a bit more inured to my diabetes. Nothing has grabbed me to make me feel it’s important enough to share my thoughts. Until now that is.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Minister, has just launched his White Paper on Public Health – which when translated means he has popped all his ideas down on paper about how to stop people getting illnesses such as diabetes though exercise and healthy eating. We then get to discuss it and offer any feedback – I’m sure the good folks here at Diabetes UK will be submitting their well thought out ideas. But we, as individuals can also offer feedback – and I think we should. Read the paper and give your views here http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Healthyliveshealthypeople/index.htm

The new Government has called the old Government solution to public health, ‘the nanny state’. Which means Lansley thinks the Labour Party was trying to tut tut us into not eating too many Happy meals, fry-ups and Mars bars. Lansley’s approach is called, ‘nudging’. He’s going to nudge us into making all the right choices. It’s worth saying here that better public health means less time spent in hospitals so less cost to the NHS and everyone’s a winner, so it is a very good thing and something we need to get right.

David Cameron and his inner circle – and therefore any Tory MP who wants to have a political career - are, so I’m informed, very much into something called, ‘behavioural economics’ (BE). As far as I can work out this is the study of how and why we make the choices we do. They have concluded that helpful hints and notices in supermarkets that other people are eating more fruit than you will encourage you to eat more fruit – however where this cycle stops is beyond me. You can see a good explanation of BE here http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/behavioural-economics

As a type 2 diabetic my life is now filled with choices to which I am much more aware then before I was diagnosed. If I eat that chocolate bar my sugar levels will go up by x! If I chose to have that piece of bacon I’ll need to do 30 mins more exercise to burn off the calories and the saturated fats will be bad for my heart. But even being aware of these choices doesn’t override the desire to have that bacon or eat that chocolate bar.

It’s fair to say that throughout 13 years of Labour Government I did not adopt a healthy lifestyle. So perhaps the Coalition are on to something with this nudging. Perhaps their sharp elbows and messages of fruit consumption will make all the difference. It’s worth giving it a go. So to summarise, I regularly had no idea why I made the choices I made and even though I am much more aware of those choices I don’t always take the right ones. Perhaps BE will help me to make the right decisions without me even knowing it – now wouldn’t that be a treat.

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