‘Individual lifestyle choices limit good health more than any other factor’ To live a healthy life people need a balanced diet and to take plenty of exercise but other habits, such as smoking and drinking in excess, can affect our lifestyles and have a negative impact on our health. Whilst some people believe that individuals themselves should know what is good and bad for them, others believe that some people have not been educated enough on the impacts of certain habits on their health and on others around them.
Some of these people believe it is the job of the government and other groups to warn these individuals but does this not lead to the people being controlled by a nanny state? Whilst the people should be educated, shouldn’t the individual also take part in improving their lifestyle as well as the government? In the UK around 10 million people smoke, this is roughly 30% of the population.
Smoking is a habit which can stunt good health yet millions continue to smoke. A smoking habit of 20 cigarettes a day can cost an individual roughly £1800 per year. Smoking doesn’t just cause the smoker to smell but rather creates many health problems for the individual and those around them. Yes, the nicotine within the cigarettes is addictive, many were peer pressured into smoking and some even started smoking before they found out that it wasn’t good for them but this is a habit that can be stopped. It requires patience and perseverance but it is possible.
Yet figures of people smoking are still extremely high. It is up to the individual to stop smoking; whilst the government can provide support they cannot stand over the individual telling them what they can and cannot do. That is up to the individual. The NHS stated that “Women smokers are five times more likely to be killed by their habit today than in the 1960s” but why is this? Research found an increasing difference in mortality between women smokers and women that don’t smoke since the 1960s.
The increase can be explained by the ‘the mad men’ effect. Increasingly from the 60s women’s smoking habits have been more like men’s in that they are starting at a younger age and smoking more. One of the researches stated “women who smoke like men, will die like men”, that is why they have been dying more commonly of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Smoking amongst both sexes can lead many different problems. Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which include heart disease and stroke.
Most individuals will have been educated on the risks of smoking and if they have willingly chosen to smoke then they themselves are damaging their health and no-one else is to blame. Majority of the time, smoking it is up to the individual to stop smoking; they have the power to stop yet they continue a habit which limits good health. However, some individuals have not been clearly informed of the risks involved in smoking and the government have been in hand to inform the people.
The 2006 ’smoking ban has gone some way in decreasing the number of people who smoke and many habits of other smokers. A recent survey by the BBC showed that 78% of people supported the ban. The 2011 Scottish Health Survey found that in 1998 two thirds of no-smokers were being exposed to second hand smoke, but by 2010 this figure had decreased to 25%.
A study by the University of Glasgow showed that there was a 15% reduction in the number of children with asthma being admitted into hospital just a few years after the ban was put in place; which shows that whilst the individual has to be the one who stops smoking, the government can influence their decision when it comes to their health and well-being. Also, cigarette companies have been made to show on their packets that smoking is harmful but there is no evidence on whether it has had an impact.
Another government strategy relating to smoking was the Quit4U programme which was initially a local initiative in Dundee. It was set up as a scheme to help people to stop smoking. It combines structured behavioural support and drug treatment with financial indicatives for every week, up to a maximum of 12 weeks, that participants don’t smoke.
The NHS Health Scotland reported that Quit4U was effective and a cost effective for helping smokers to quit. This again shows that government can have an influence on an individual’s health and help improve it. Moreover, drinking is yet another problem amongst the British public that limits good health. This is obviously an individual’s choice and drinking too much can cause many problems. No matter how much help the government offers this an individual choice which limits their health.
Problems caused by alcohol include liver disease, strokes, cardiovascular diseases and many psychological problems. Binge drinking can lead to violence and can even tear families apart. Binge drinking is very common amongst younger people but due to a greater awareness of health dangers and possibly the recession, the NHS revealed a surge in prescriptions for medicines and a slight overall decrease in the overall consumption.
Prescriptions for medicines to treat alcoholism rose by 12% in 2009; more than 150,000 were prescribed the two main drugs used to treat withdrawal symptoms or induce sickness when alcohol is drunk. Amongst the young, the news was encouraging. The proportion of pupils, aged 11-15, who have never drank alcohol increased in the past few years, a study by Office of National Statistics revealed. In 2008 48% of pupils said they’d never tried alcohol, compared to 39% in 2003.
This shows that individuals have begun to make progress in decreasing their alcohol consumption in order to avoid health problems. However, alcohol consumption is still a major issue in Britain today. It was stated that 56% of men aged 16-24 had drunk more than twice the recommended level in recent weeks, compared to only 6% of men aged 75 and over showing this a problem amongst the younger generation. In 2010/11 there were 190,900 admissions into hospital where the diagnosis showed the main cause for their health problems was due to their excess consumption of alcohol.
Also 52% of women in the 16-24 age group stated that they had exceeded twice the recommended consumption of alcohol compared to again the oldest age group which was only 3%. These people decided themselves to consume this level of alcohol and may end up with many alcohol related diseases – especially liver diseases.
Men who consume alcohol are twice as likely to develop liver cirrhosis and could have four times the risk of having high blood pressure compared to those who don’t drink. Women drinkers are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure than non-drinkers. Anyone who drinks alcohol regularly could be 3 to 5 times more likely get cancer within the mouth, neck and throat as well as be twice as likely to have an irregular heartbeat than their counterparts who don’t drink alcohol.
Even with statistics like this out in the public domain many people continue to drink in excess showing this problem being one that is the individual’s choice thus it can be said it is that individual that is limiting their own health. In addition, the Scottish government introduced minimum pricing on alcohol last year. Currently alcohol is priced at 50p a unit in Scotland.
The government believe this will decrease crime rates along with the health problems created by drinking in excess. But will this actually have an impact? A study was carried out in Canada on whether minimum pricing of alcohol actually improves the health of the public and decreased crime.
They claimed that a 10% rise in prices would lead to a 32% reduction in alcohol related deaths. This is the first study to highlight the effects of minimum pricing alcohol on death rates, although the Scottish government has used previous research from the University of Sheffield to claim that the amount of alcohol that was consumed would reduce if prices rose.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of the pressure group Alcohol Focus Scotland stated “This is important evidence which shows that minimum pricing is saving lives in Canada and will save lives in Scotland. However, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Association, Miles Beale, disagreed with the research and stated “There is not a simple link between alcohol price and harm. Consumption is more likely to be related to cultural factors and that the increase in price does not impact on these significantly.
The industry is committed to tackling problem drinking and its consequences, but minimum unit pricing will not do that.” Whilst the government have tried to tackle excess drinking and have a right to their people to do so, it is also the individual’s responsibility to take their health into account when they drink in excess. Furthermore, healthy eating is a major factor contributing to good health. The government, along with many other groups, have been campaigning about eating healthily for years.
Whilst it should now be the individual’s responsibility to eat healthier foods, many cannot afford to do this. It would be cheaper to buy packets of crisps than to buy fresh fruits. Dr Scarborough of Oxford University stated that ‘junk food taxes and subsidies on fruit and veg could be a very important tool in addressing health inequalities the UK. ’The government could offer fruit subsidies and tax junk food higher to promote healthy eating further but it would still be the individual’s responsibility to buy the right foods but again there is a financial burden on many.
Some people cannot afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are filled with much needed vitamins and nutrients. This is due to low incomes, which are the responsibility of the government. If they wish to better the health of their people they must provide them with a living wage and/or better benefits. Professor Danny Darling, Sheffield, said ‘health and wealth are directly liked and, unless we tackle the income gap, we could well see life expectancy actually starting to fall for the for the first time in the poorest areas.’
This clearly shows that individual lifestyle choices aren’t the only factors that limit good health. Jamie Oliver’s school meals have been successful in improving good health amongst children. Jamie Oliver was appalled at the types of food served to children in school and wanted to start a revolution for healthier foods. Even now they continue to produce a marked improvement in national curriculum test results. A study by academics shows children eating the healthier lunches introduced by the TV chef do far better in tests.
Children being absent from sickness has decreased by 14%. It has also been claimed that a child eating healthier foods will earn between £2,103 and £5, 476 more over their lifetimes due to their improved literacy. This study examines the test results of 11 year old pupils in 80 Greenwich school where Jamie Oliver launched his healthy school meals campaign and then compared them to children who had not been served the nutritional food in nearby local authorities.
They discovered, between 2004 and 2008, there was on average a 6% improvement in the number of pupils reaching a high level in English tests in schools where the healthy meals were served and an 8% improvement in the sciences. This means that children who eat healthier achieve better marks academically which in turn can improve their chances of going to university and getting good jobs. They can thus continue this healthy eating which can improve their health.
This shows that campaigns can also have an impact on people’s health and can even challenge the impact that the individual has. However, many people do have their choices restricted due to their financial standing. It may not make sense to go to supermarkets and buy organic foods if they are on a tight budget, if parents don’t want their children to go hungry then it would more beneficial to buy cheaper foods, that may not be as healthy, that fill them up.
It is the government’s responsibility to provide a living wage to the people; it may not be something most employers would be happy with but if the government want a healthier nation they must allow pay rises so the poorer sectors of society can afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, along with foods that can lower cholesterol but are priced higher than usual brands they buy. I believe they should continue educating every generation on the upsides of healthy eating and the dangers of junk food, along with providing a living wage.
Following such a policy would take a burden off the over-stretched NHS. It would create a decrease in deaths and decrease health problems associated with not eating healthily. Whilst the individual may be able to choose the healthier options at times, they may not in the long and this would be the government’s job to aid them.
On the other hand, when it comes to things like exercise it is the individual’s responsibility to stay active. They all have free will; if they live in a rough area then maybe they would be more likely to go out running or join a sports centre in a nearby area but in the end it is up to them. If they don’t try then they will eventually just create health problems for themselves even though the government does provide facilities for them.
On the lead up to the Olympics, the government wanted to inspire a nation but it was up to the individual to want to exercise. To get out on their bike or join the gym. Again with the forthcoming Commonwealth games, the Scottish government are pushing for a more active Glasgow but if the people don’t want to become active then it is up to them. The government can’t stand over every individual who does not get their recommended amount of exercise and force them to become more active.
The government can provide more PE for school children but what about adults? Whilst the government can encourage people to become more active and provide them with facilities this is sorely individual’s choice which can impact on their health. In conclusion, whilst the government should educate the people on dangers of certain things such as healthy eating and binge drinking, it is up to the individual to improve their health.
Yes, whilst some people may face difficulties financially and from their peers, others are free to exercise, drink moderately and eat the right foods yet they continue not to do so. This is why individual lifestyle choices limit good health more than any other factor.