Our nation’s health and wealth – whose responsibility is it anyway?


Politics might be about people, but at the end of the day it is the fiscal health of our country and the impact an issue has on that health that is guaranteed to exercise the conscience and therefore policy direction of our government.

Obesity is the perfect example of this.  One of, if not the main reason obesity has become a major political issue during the past decade is the cost to New Zealand now and in the future.  But in identifying this problem what have we tangibly done to address it?

For almost a decade we have seen an enormous amount of time used in consulting, planning, lobbying and networking, in order to decide how we can help people overcome all of these issues that apparently are absolutely no fault of their own. Note the “how we can help”.

But are we really any further forward?  Do we have a decisive road map on how, in the medium and long-term, we can address these issues, or the very least the confidence in our convictions that we are making some in-roads?  Certainly there has been some progress but often these are specific and isolated outcomes.  I also know that the food industry (I freely admit my own involvement within the food industry) has done a huge amount to “assist”.

It now seems that our new Minister of Health is calling for greater focus on putting the money directly into fixing the problem and the word is that we want actions and outcomes not plans and pontification.  But what will this mean in the area of obesity?  Fat camps or social welfare benefits for people who are the right weight only?

If we look at our US counterparts who are also taking a fresh and very serious look at these matters there could be some lessons to be learnt.  A recent address by President Obama, to the annual American Medical Association conference highlights the key strategies needed to “fix” the US health system and if we listen carefully the situation really is dire.

Most interestingly President Obama specifically identifies greater investment in preventive care “so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place” as the second most important focus for his administration in order to get the health system back on track.

It only comes second because the first area to tackle is that of a more efficient and integrated record keeping system. It seems that in America there is far greater success tracking a Fedex parcel than a person’s medical records.  It also results in significant cost blowouts right across the system.

The most refreshing aspect of his focus on preventive care is that it directly links to personal responsibility – listen to his words.

“That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.

“It also means cutting down on all the junk food that is fueling an epidemic of obesity, putting far too many Americans, young and old, at greater risk of costly, chronic conditions. That’s a lesson Michelle and I have tried to instill in our daughters with the White House vegetable garden that Michelle planted. And that’s a lesson that we should work with local school districts to incorporate into their school lunch programs.”

President Obama predicts that within a decade one of every five dollars earned will go towards health care.  In thirty years (when our own children will be working) one in three dollars will be spent on health care.  The future cost of health could potentially be the undoing of a modern society’s financial stability.

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that the US health system costs US$2 trillion every year and they apparently spend 50% more per person than the next most costly nation.  Despite that over 100,000 people a year die from medical misadventure.

So it is up to us as individuals to take responsibility for their health and the future health of their own children. To me it is a flash of the blinding obvious.

So to the question posed in the title.  Whose responsibility is it anyway?  Surely it is everyone’s?  So let’s park the blame game and get on with doing our bit.  But let’s do it for ourselves first!

Categories: Health Promotion, Nutrition and Health

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