2012 began with more of a whimper than a bang, with new year’s resolutions taking a hit. Commentators urged people to take it slow, rather than set huge goals for change and wellness. Dramatic change sets you up for a fall, according to a slew of articles and blog posts. Better to opt for small, incremental change, and look inside for sustainable behavioral change and adopting healthy habits. I like the idea of your own existential despair guiding change, but I don’t think many Americans can wrap their head around much more than magic bullets. Clearly, news and blogs were absolutely schizophrenic about the new year: magic-bullet points ran side-by-side next to the “be at peace with yourself, be kind, go at your own pace” wellness articles.
Incremental change is not sexy and it hardly makes for compelling reading –at least most of the time. How do you maintain interest in walking longer each day, giving up sugary drinks, or going to the gym twice a week? Is creating the structure yourself too much for many people?
Years ago, I worked with the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (AKA Mr. Fit), one of the first primary prevention programs, which strived to identify people (unfortunately, in that era, just working men!) at increased risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and premature death. One goal of the program was to show people how their behavior contributed to increased risk, for example, cigarette smoking, minimal exercise, eating salty and fried food, and the like, and poor fitness, more illness, and increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and more. Intervention programs were set up for participants to help them stop smoking, lose weight, and change their diet. For some high-risk individuals, changing diet, exercise, and smoking all at once worked very well, argued the researchers. I don’t know how people abandon bad habits and take better care.
So here we are in 2012. Recent CDC data suggests that obesity may be peaking at 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children – but higher in some groups. Cigarette smoking is down in many groups, but not as much among poor and minority groups.
Do you have any insight into your own pitfalls in trying to live healthier? Why is it so impossible at times? What public policies might help people live better? Do you have any ideas about what sort of societal changes would help Americans live healthier?