Chronic Disease - When Knowledge Isn't The Problem

March 8, 2016

 

There have been recent new stories of the Federal Government promising to revolutionise care for those Australians with multiple chronic diseases. From someone who has worked in the chronic disease area for many years, it is pleasing to see proposals put forward to aid in managing these conditions in a more efficient, coordinated manner.

 

Chronic diseases are a growing problem in the developed world. Much of the burden of disease and injury of Australians is due to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases make up more than 70% of Australia’s disease burden due to death, disability and diminished quality of life, and this is expected to increase in the foreseeable future. Chronic diseases are common with over three quarters of adults in Australia having at least one long-term condition.  Scary stats.

 

What we also know is that many chronic diseases are preventable. Meaning that if we as individuals, did something differently, we could stop ourselves getting these conditions in the first place.

 

So let’s get this straight. The government is spending a considerable amount of money on helping us cope with massive health problems that we, as individuals, could have avoided.

 

One might think I am being a harsh here, but I don’t think I am. And if I am, I am doing it for our own good.  Because here’s the thing, the increase in chronic disease is mostly due to our own behaviours. For example, Type 2 diabetes is highly associated with obesity, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating practices. The proportion of Australians who report having Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled in 10 years.

 

The statistics suggest that in some ways, chronic diseases could be construed as self inflicted.  They are mostly avoidable, meaning that they ‘need not happen.’

 

Why are we leaving our health to the hands of the health system? We shouldn’t be relying on the government to help us out when we most likely did the damage to ourselves.

 

There is enough evidence now to demonstrate that an unhealthy lifestyle means more illness. We know this. It has been presented to us in various formats over the years, but it would be hard not to know that smoking causes disease, physical inactivity is no good, too much alcohol damages our body and a poor diet leads to major health problems.

 

Knowledge isn’t the problem.

 

We know that poor health leads to illness, and means more time lost at work, less quality recreational time, and an even shorter lifespan. We all know what unhealthy lifestyle choices are, and we know what is likely to happen to us if we continue doing them. But knowledge of this is not enough to make us stop doing them.

 

We already have all of this knowledge so we need to push through to the next step. The problem is that knowledge is actually a very minor factor in behaviour change, and there are so many other factors we need to consider for each of us individually. That’s why even public health campaigns struggle with us.

 

But what we also know is that it is difficult for others to make us change, because we are such complex creatures. The dangling carrot of future good health is different for all of us. We are all motivated by different factors. So, it is hard for the public health system to create a dangling carrot that fits us all, because they don’t know how we think.

 

But you know.

 

Given the complexity of us all and that there is not a one size fits all approach to public health, what if we all took responsibility for own health now – given we know more about ourselves than anyone else? We could make more difference by ourselves than any government funding could do.

 

We all have the knowledge. The next step is to think about how we can get from where we are to where we want to be. Why do we want to change? Why do we get stuck and what is getting our way? Who can help us do this? We can find all of this out when we work on ourselves.

 

There is only one person responsible for the quality of life we live. Us.

 

None of us want to be passed around in the health system, with other people making decisions for us. No matter how efficient and organised it is being run.

 

We have better things to do. Don’t we?

 

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