Friday 24 October 2014

Couch potatoes

From the Telegraph:

Couch potato lifestyles could kill the welfare state, landmark report warns

Couch potato lifestyles have left the UK with one of the lowest levels of activity in the western world, and without change, the welfare state could collapse, health officials have warned.

If the welfare state is so fragile that it can be brought down by people sitting about, perhaps we need a better system?

The welfare state won't be brought down under the weight of couch potatoes, however. This is just the latest scare story about obesity/smoking/drinking etc. bringing the NHS to "the brink of collapse". As I'm sure you know by now, obese people have lower heathcare costs than non-obese people.

At least Public Health England—for it is they—are talking about physical inactivity.

Officials warned that the UK population is now 20 per cent less active than it was in the 1960s...
The report by Public Health England says the typical lifestyle in Britain, with long hours spent in desk jobs, high levels of car travel and evenings spent watching TV or playing computer games is endangering the health of most of its population.
It warns: “Social, cultural and economic trends have removed physical activity from daily life. Fewer of us have manual jobs. Technology dominates at home and work, the two places where we spend most of our time. It encourages us to sit for long periods – watching TV, at the computer, playing games or using mobile phones and tablets. Over-reliance on cars and other motorised transport is also a factor.”

Indeed. I have been saying this recently on this blog and in an IEA report. If Public Health England conceded that calorie consumption has also been falling, we might get closer to understanding the real cause of the obesity 'epidemic'.

Michael Blastland gave a superb talk at the Battle of Ideas on Sunday in which he questioned why 'public health' folk tend to focus on diet, but not on exercise. He concluded that it is because there is no industry to attack and no legislation to campaign for. This, I think, is absolutely true. The public health lobby are one club golfers. If they can't blame industry for all the troubles of the world, they don't know what to do.

On a slightly related note, I am reminded of an anecdote in the great Petr Skrabanek's The Death of Humane Medicine which illustrates the yearning of epidemiologists to explain every premature death by reference to lifestyle.

When death strikes 'before its time', the victim's lifestyle becomes the subject of scrutiny. Death does not just happen. Something or somebody must be blamed. Obituarists casually search for snippets from the dead person's way of life which would 'explain' the timing and the mode of death.
When a 33-year-old friend of an epidemiologist suddenly died of a heart attack, without having any 'risk factors', the epidemiologist was greatly puzzled and so were his medical colleagues. 'The heart attack should not have occurred in this patient', was the verdict of experts. But it did. It was not fair. Was he a secret smoker? Had he used too much salt at home, even though he appeared to be shunning it in the hospital canteen? Then, finally, one doctor solved the mystery - the young man was a 'couch potato'.

All of Skrabanek's excellent books can be downloaded free here.

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