I have a thing for Twirls. Not the activity - I’m not given to insisting people who happen to be in the same room as me look at my choice of trouser from all angles without having to walk around me.
No, I mean the chocolate bar.
I eat a Twirl every day. Sometimes, if I have had a challenging day, I have two Twirls. And a KitKat. And, if it’s Friday, another Twirl. This descent into calorie hell is offset by my going to the gym four or five times a week. “It’s me against the Twirls,” is my mantra, as I am rowing indoors without water and not moving. The older I get, the better the Twirls are doing.
Still, the fight goes on as it does for many of us, laden with contradictions, Twirl wrappers and whatever unhealthy choice you may find yourself making.
We struggle, often in small ways to look after ourselves, to overcome or reduce our unhealthy choices - and even suggest ways in which other people may try to look after themselves too.
Last week, the BBC reported that life expectancy was on the increase, despite our fears about the impact obesity would have on the health of our nation. Life expectancy here is higher than in the US the report said, managing not to add wryly “Mind you, have you seen the size of their doughnuts?” The report concluded that the feared impact of our unhealthy lifestyle is not actually manifesting itself.
Breathe easy and send someone out for cake - the obesity epidemic was a false alarm. Yes, we may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes but we have the technology and the health services to help us get through that.
Except the life expectancy report by population expert Professor Leon did not offer such reassurances. The report didn’t say: “We don’t have to worry about obesity after all.” It said: “Life expectancy is on the rise in part because of lower smoking rates.” That’s it. Everything else is spin.
We know that obesity, smoking, too much beer and a lack of exercise not only kill but also make living a damn sight harder.
We also know that people who are struggling with unhealthy eating, giving up cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol can employ some sort of cognitive dissonance ranging from “yes, I have read the health warnings but my Granny smoked until she was 106” to “Yes, I do get puffed out putting my shirt on but a bloke down the pub said that Battenberg cake is really good for you, as is having a belly the size of Norway”. Now they have “Obesity isn’t as bad as they said, I read it on the BBC.”
Lazy or double messages around public health are unhelpful and make a nurse’s job all the harder. We have no meaningful statistics - although we could project some worrying ones - on what impact the relatively new epidemic of obesity will have on life expectancy.
All we know is that life expectancy is rising now. But we are measuring that by looking at a generation that was raised on rationing, not doughnuts. And enjoying the benefits of comprehensive health service with a range of improved treatments.
Obviously, we cannot regulate the free press, nor expect them to legislate for the consequences of the way they report. However, we can notice a false link in the chain of reason and point it out quickly and hope that evidence, professional opinion and logic will win out over spin at least sometimes.
Otherwise, knowing what you are talking about won’t matter a bit.