Health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and is a fundamental human right. It would have been hoped that in this age of globalising free-markets where unused resources would more readily be able to flow to unmet needs, that our states of well-being would have been optimised. Sadly, this is not the case, and the data suggests that the health of our lives and that of the planet are being compromised.
The leading causes of death at home and in the region are the non-communicable diseases of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and injuries, and the main drivers of these diseases are hypertension, overweight/obesity, alcohol abuse, smoking, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity. Since the 1970s, the prevalence of overweight and obese individuals and their complications have increased to epidemic proportions mainly as a result of the behavioural risk factors of unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, tobacco smoking and heavy use of alcohol.
The major driver of these behavioural risk factors is the globalisation of the fast food industry aided and abetted by the mass media, which has not only increased the prevalence of childhood and adult obesity and by extension the non-communicable diseases, but has also been responsible for ecological pathologies such as climate changes and global warming. Also global trade agreements have made it more and more difficult for leaders of nation states to act in the best interest of their citizens as “free” market dictates have stymied efforts to create policies that are more conducive to healthier lives and a healthier planet.
A new perspective of globalisation and its negative effects on people’s lives has been proposed by psychologist Dr Bruce Alexander. He makes the provocative claim that globalising free-markets necessarily fosters psychosocial dislocation of individuals from their families, communities and health-nurturing cultures, and this in turn results in destructive and compulsive behaviours being substituted for these disconnections. These addictive tendencies are not only in the use of illicit drugs, but also in the abuse of legal substances such as tobacco, alcohol, fast food, and extends to other activities such as shopping, gambling, sex, the acquisition of more and more wealth and even more and more power, and in their wake, the unintended consequence is a host of physical, mental and social maladies. Given that psychosocial dislocation is the root cause of our unhealthy physical, mental and social behaviours, it behooves us to find ways and means of reversing these trends and regain psychosocial reintegration and reconnection and to achieve more harmony and balance with ourselves, our communities and our planet.
We will discover that the fundamental unit of production, growth and development in our nation are not individuals, but relationships, and links are made between the quality of our social relationships, mental capital, stress and the physical, mental and social negative outcomes. Since we cannot treat ourselves out of these chronic diseases, prevention of these illnesses has to be the mainstay of treatment through the development of local, regional and international policies.
A bottom-up approach, that focuses on patients and families supported by the physical, mental and social health care teams, community partners and the creation of a positive policy environment, is the only approach that is worthy of consideration as it is the only approach that is wholistic, people-and planet-centred and that is designed to succeed.
Our true physical, mental and social capital will be revealed, along with the secret to healthy living and the creation of a healthy nation. It is fundamentally about responsible stewardship of our life-supporting and life-nurturing networks within our bodies, our families and communities, and ultimately about responsible stewardship of our biosphere and lithosphere which have been gifted to us and have supported and nurtured us for billions of years.
We have enough information to guide us now, as we take a more wholistic approach to health promotion and preventative health maintenance, as we all work together to create a better and brighter and healthier nation, once and for all, and for one and all.