I WAS SPEAKING to a friend the other day on the subject of helping people to eat better. I believe that with the right type of education and access to the right types of food, we could make a significant change to our nation’s health. My friend disagrees. He pointed out that many diet companies only have limited consistent engagement. Despite spending millions of dollars on celebrity endorsements and advertisements showing how easy the diet plans are to follow and how good the food tastes, people regularly fall off the wagon and go back to their old ways. Something is missing.
Maybe I’m a dreamer. I like to think that if we equip people with the tools they need to better themselves, the likelihood is that they will do just that. There are many not-for-profit and charitable organizations that operate along this line of thinking in the work they do around the world: for example, Rotary, with their clean water projects. Volunteers go into countries in the developing world where safe drinking water is scarce and teach the locals how to drill wells, filter and sanitize water, and so on. Heifer International goes into communities and teaches locals how to grow crops, raise cattle and create immunization protocols for livestock.
Each of these organizations work at the community level to empower people to improve their living conditions themselves. Sure, it would be easier just to have water, milk and meat delivered to these communities, but that would create a dependence that they don’t want and if the supply were disrupted, they would be more vulnerable than they were before. It’s an old principal, but one that is true: it is better to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish.
In the West, people already have a large degree of control over their own health. They have the ‘tools’. For example, the data linking obesity to diabetes, elevated blood pressure, cancer and other diseases is freely available. And yet we still find it difficult to control the quantity and quality of the food we ingest. Why? What we need to realize is that health is about far more than diet, drugs, data and doctors. It’s also about approach – about mindset. In the context of America’s worsening obesity epidemic, how do we nurture our sense of independence – from drugs, from doctors – and approach our health with the right attitude: the desire first to take control and then to get better?