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Healthy living is becoming a commodity, not a choice

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Never before has there been a more concerted effort to make us all live healthier lives.
The newspapers are running features like ‘101 things to do with broccoli’ and ‘why sprouts are the new Curly Wurlys’.
You can’t open a magazine without being told that ‘You too can be like Lizzie – she was an unhappy 16-stone dinner lady until she discovered snowboarding and is now seven stone and planning to open her own mountain spa in Wolverhampton’.
The shops are selling off exercise equipment at half price. Trampolines, exercise bikes and, for those of you for whom chocolate goes straight past the hips and heads for the fingers, castanets.
Gyms are enticing new members with the same deals many people bought last year but stopped using in March, but with extras. One gym near me phones up and nags you if they haven’t seen you for two weeks: ‘Sir, this is your gym calling, please put the pie down. The running machine is free and is asking for you by name. We can see you, sir, we have cameras in your house, it isn’t pretty, sir – and it isn’t fair to your children or your furniture.’
Being fit is the new black. We are being encouraged to spend anything we have left after Christmas on healthy foods, lycra and fitness club membership.
Blame what you like – I believe a mix of mulled wine, Stollen cake and crisps to be at fault – but we know that we are less healthy than we could be. And we know that for the first time our lifestyles will force a decline in life expectancy for our children’s generation.
Yet it seems that ‘healthy living’ is becoming, above all, a commodity. Health professionals might think it is about making simple and affordable choices. But the rest of the world thinks it is about shopping. Perhaps the idea is we might, collectively, value it more if we have to buy it?
I suppose it’s been like that for a long time. Health and fitness is a multimillion-pound industry. You pay your money and you receive some kind of sense of well-being.
But despite the growth in gyms, healthy-eating cook books and yoga clubs, and despite the millions of pounds we are spending, we are becoming fatter and more puffed out. Paying the money isn’t in itself enough, is it? Particularly if once we’ve paid it we head for the chip shop.
Do you ever wonder, when you see your 30-year-old patient with diabetes caused by obesity, or your 50-year-old with the heart of an 80-year-old, if actually lots of people – even the ones who like shopping for gym equipment – might hate their lives? And no matter what they buy or what you do, that is not going to change? And it isn’t about knowledge or politics or even money – just culture, lifestyle and unhappiness?
Not that you are allowed to wonder such things, of course. You just have to try to sort it out.
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