Our current health model is not working. We need as a society to rethink how we challenge our growing disease rates.
Last year (2018) New Zealand spent around $17.1 billion a year on health, this is up from $6.6 billion in 2001. Almost 80% of that is for chronic lifestyle disease. Most health professionals agree that lifestyle disease is created and worsened by poor lifestyle habits. Why are health professionals still using pharmaceuticals as the front line treatment, and then tacking on lifestyle habits as an afterthought? I have talked to a few GP's and specialists and a common response to my question is...
1) There isn't enough time to go into the complexities of lifestyle as a solution (for example GP appointments are 10-15min and this system will never allow a true holistic outlook)
2) Patients come in demanding "quick fixes" and "pills" (Our society has been conditioned to get medication, and our health professionals are well trained in pharmacology)
Due to the reasons stated above there is a real push to defer our health problems on to GP's to fix. Shifting the burden of responsibility, and laying the framework for medication to be the first line "health" measure. So many of my medical friends have told me how patients walk in to their clinics and demand to be "fixed" as though their bodies are a car engine. Doctors are battling a system with time and financial pressure, so are gradually nudges into treating lifestyle disease with medications that keep symptoms at bay without looking at the cause. Medical professionals and patients alike put heads in the sand, taking the easy option. Just take the pills - the GP's don't have time in the 10min slot to go into any meaningful lifestyle assessment and then come up with a new direction. We all need to get uncomfortable and authentically face our dis-ease and poor health head on. Our failing health system has to increase our dose and frequency of lifestyle intervention, and decrease our reliance on the pharmaceutical industry. Medications have a place, and we are blessed to live in a country with first rate acute medicine and emergency care, but medication should only supplement chronic disease, with our lifestyle being the pillar of long term management.
Hannah O'Malley, a pharmacist from Nelson and creator of the Better Base website presented some frightening statistics from the Ministry of Health (MOH) at the Veg & Vines Plant based medical conference in Gisborne this year. In terms of health loss in NZ between 1990 and 2013. Poor diet and obesity are some of the biggest contributors, surpassing smoking. Our district health boards are compelled to intervene with smoking with offerings of funded support and patches but they still serve food and drink that contributes to disease within the hospital and give little more than lip service to exercise education. 2.5 million NZers are overweight or obese including 12% obesity in our children. 50 million prescriptions were filled in 2017 for 3.7 million people, while only 50,000 green prescriptions were filled out. Green prescriptions are lifestyle interventions to encourage mainly exercise and in some areas nutritional advice. Most areas have walking groups and have some nutritional advice. We can't out exercise poor eating choices so the education of exercise and nutrition must go hand in hand. The powerful food industry love to promote exercise when in all actuality cutting out the cheap, highly processed, highly addictive, highly profitable foods (for the food industry) will make the most powerful change to this countries obesity epidemic. Many countries around the world are taxing soft drinks, not allowing shops to sell "cheap highly processed crap" to school kids. We need to address the complex issue of obesity with a wide range of measures including bold government lead legislation. I stated in my presentation at the January Veg and Vines conference that we are treated by a health care system that pays little attention to the food we eat, and we have a food and alcohol industry that doesn't pay enough attention to health. Eating real food, and exercising consistently are powerful tools against disease with mainly positive side effects. If they were medications then EVERYONE would be receiving a prescription.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michele who has benefited greatly from a lifestyle green prescription. 8 years ago Michele was 115kg, pre-diabetic, unfit, and sick & tired of being sick and tired. I asked her some questions about her experience............
What caused you to seek help from your GP? I did not know about the green prescription – I was told about it by a friend – so I went to my GP and they sent the referral through – I was very surprised that they did not / had not mentioned / or promoted this earlier for me as I was pre diabetic – very overweight and had high blood pressure?
Can you tell me about your Green Prescription experience? They were great – Non judgmental - which is the environment that really nurtures success – there was a lot of information – and a safe place mentally which was a great help.
What did you find helpful to change your habits? When you weight 115kg you know you have to change - having encouraging people around me – for me I was at the stage where I was over it – over being over weight – over being self conscious when I went out because of my weight – my habits got me to a pretty crap place to I had to come to the realisation that they had to change if I wanted change.
What inspired you to be consistent with your healthy lifestyle? Consistent was easy – when you start feeling stronger / see the changes in your body / stronger mentally – you just want to do more – I used to think “I can't do that” now it's changed into “Can I do that?” and the kids are saying “no you can't”
What advice would you give others who are about to start their wellness journey? If you fall off the wagon just have another "start day" It doesn't have to be a Monday – If you fall off on a Tuesday – Wednesday can be the start day – Prepare and think about routine and how you are going to fit in your chosen exercise – gym, swim, walk? – I found it helpful to set a time to go walking with a friend as you had committed and you had to turn up – set goals – maybe a certain distance? – then do the distance in a quicker time – not every time – some days it may take 10min longer but you still did it - allow yourself a treat – sign up for a walk 3,5 or 10km, make it realistic and I always think “well you are beating that person that is sitting on the couch”
It was such a pleasure meeting Michelle for a coffee and talking about her journey. The green prescription started a positive cascade of interactions, habit formations, and intentions that has produced a brand new person. More positive, healthier, and engaged. 6 years ago Michele became a vegetarian as she had digestive issues all her life and she wanted to try and improve these symptoms without medication. Within 5 days she noticed an improvement in symptoms and hasn't consumed meat since. One of the most inspiring subjects we talked about was the positive effect Michele was having on her "little people" (grandchildren). Now she could take them out into nature for bush walks, and rock climbing due to her new found fitness, and enthusiasm for life. Imagine if we had a few more people going through this positive experience - all started from some scribbled words on a piece of paper. Lifestyle intervention is cheaper, and is indeed the most powerful medicine available. The best way to real health is not necessarily the quickest or easiest path but I promise you it will be the most rewarding.
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”