Take responsibility

Benefits made me 23 stone

© The Sun newspaper

This weeks Run With An Idea post could be quite controversial, but these are my own personal views.

The premise of this post is, “being fit and healthy is a personal responsibility, the government shouldn’t intervene.”

I can only speak of the issue as I see it in the UK, but I guess that it could be the same in countless other countries across the world. There seems to be a worrying trend in some peoples attitude to their health in our society. They smoke, eat too much and do no exercise. These are the same people that are costing the NHS a small fortune to treat.

I regularly run past a local hospital and see patients (and some staff) smoking outside. I’ve even see a person in a wheelchair and an IV connected to their arm smoking. Surely somewhere along the line personal responsibility should come in? We have a very good anti-smoking campaign running in the UK for many years and it surprises me that anyone still smokes.

According to ASH, smoking in the UK costs the NHS approximately £2.7 billion a year. Another study put the estimated cost as high as £5.2 billion. A report by the Policy Exchange in 2010 estimated the total cost to society of smoking to be £13.74 billion1.

Obesity is also a massive problem.  A survey published in 20122 reported that just over a quarter of all adults (26%) in England are obese. It said that modern lifestyles do not help; with the easy access to cheap high energy food that is often marketed aggressively, combined with a sedentary lifestyle.

I’m not saying that the NHS shouldn’t treat peoples illnesses, but I do think that we should do more to educate people about the benefits of a healthy diet combined with a sustainable exercise program. But, I don’t think that we should treat people who do nothing to help themselves. That may sound harsh but in some cases I think it should apply.

Too many people have the attitude of its not my fault or to look for someone else to blame. Can we really afford to spend our resources like this?

Maybe I’m too old school. My attitude is, if you want something crack on and do it, if you fail then try again. Use your common sense, get your head down and just do it.

Its your body, its your health, so do something about it.

1 The economics of tobacco.

2 Obesity, NHS Choices.

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21 thoughts on “Take responsibility

  1. This reminds me of something I was told. Anyone can hand you a Mars bar, only you can eat it. Blaming the government is ridiculous. It’s not what the money is meant for. The hospital smoking thing is something we were taking about at work yesterday, it seems to really annoy people. More controversy here but… maybe if you’re in with lung problems and you keep smoking, or liver problems and you keep drinking excessively then the NHS shouldn’t be footing the bill.

  2. high five from me. McDonalds didn’t kidnap you and force feed the food….

    On a funny note, None of the American hospitals I have worked at have ver allowed their patients to smoke. We will give nicotine patches, but no smoking. We also have a policy at our hospital currently to not hire smokers, so it’s a crazy thing now to see anyone smoking around our hospital….

  3. I guess its habit, addiction & coping mechanisms for many people. – I’m sure there’s a trend between poor society and alcoholism –
    We can advertise the poor effects of all this unhealthy-ness but ultimately it’s up to the person and their perspectives on life and since we all have a unique perspective, sometimes all the education, all the money, all the insert-what-ever-here might never persuade them to lead a healthier lifestyle. Not to say the effort into educating people hasn’t had a positive effect.
    (I’m not defending the smokers/unhealthy eaters. It may be no-ones fault but their own but sometimes they got in that situation through allsorts of problems which they possibly couldn’t have helped(psychological problems ect) re-jigging someone’s cognitive behavioural patterns & thought patterns, perspectives can be hard work )
    I guess there is the ethical line too, segregation of certain groups of society through health choices.
    I don’t want to offend anyone. There is a line. We can get up and assess our own lifestyles, if we wish for changes we should attempt to pursue them till we reach the goals we plan. If we want change bad enough we can do it.

    Its a toughie post – however receiving benefit / or being paid wages is no excuse to spend £120 on junk food.

  4. I agree with the bottom line of what you are saying, however it is much easier for an educated middle class person to make the right decisions and take care of themselves, than for someone who doesn’t have the resources and/or knowledge.
    I don’t think the government should babysit us, or spend a lot of money on someone who is clearly disregarding their health. However I am pro the government regulating nutrition in restaurant foods, chemical use in our food/drinks, and a lot of other things that we as stand alone citizens don’t have the power to do.

  5. I would like to see a tax cut or refund for anyone who can transparently prove they are involved in regular exercise… fun runs, gym memberships and the like… we end up paying for all the food abuse through the health system so why not give us a break when we are being healthy? Just a thought :) Great post as always.

      • I would love to see them offer gym memberships, personal training, and other wellness programs at sliding scale costs with reduced cost or free child care. I am truly grateful that I can afford my gym membership, but I wonder how many people who can’t otherwise would participate if they had an opportunity. I think the biggest crime is when they do create similar programs that are lost because they’re abused. Everyone suffers. The article posted above is a prime example.

  6. As a smoker, I have to weight in on this… First of all, I want to be clear – I totally agree with your post.

    That said, I have tried to quit: patches, gum, straight up will power, an 8 week one-on-one therapy specifically for quitting, the prescription drug – currently, I’m trying to switch to electronic cigarettes. Years ago I quit using just Taco Bell. That actually worked and I was smoke free for five years!! But now I live with a chain smoker who does not support my efforts to quit. For someone who does not smoke it may be very difficult to understand that starting may be a bad choice, but quitting is not really an intellectual process. Telling us how bad it is for us economically, or health-wise is useless – I know that already. Those campaigns are best suited for prevented people from starting in the first place. Very honestly, the emotional abuse I pile on myself every single time I light up would stop my smoking if it were as simple as just understanding. Remember, I’m a runner, smoking goes against everything that I believe in.

    I cannot speak to obesity from a personal perspective. I have to say that I have always wondered why there isn’t a point with really obese people when, as they see themselves getting larger and larger, they don’t say “Oh. This is unacceptable!” That point for me was when my size fours looked ridiculously tight and I could no longer wear the new clothes I just bought. However, I think it is important to recognize that eating healthy food is more expensive than eating the other stuff. So I think its only fair to give some credit to the economic reality for people who simply cannot afford to feed their families better, more healthful meals. Really think about it, just this week I bought some fruit and veggies and I realized I could have bought a meal at McDonalds for myself and a couple of children with what I paid. There are probably other factors that I just don’t have the perspective to even know about since I’ve been very thin my whole life. I think though, that it’s important to leave open the possibility that there’s more to it.

    I think the problem is more complex than just a lack of taking responsibility. I further think that the discourse around these issue needs to bear in mind that complexity and resist the urge to reduce the problem to laziness or ignorance.

    Awesome post, by the way! Love your blog!!

  7. A very thought-provoking post, and such a difficult topic. I definitely think the government should do more in the way of education about healthy lifestyles. A big problem with potentially not treating people who don’t help themselves is knowing where the line is: it’s pretty obvious who is smoking and who isn’t, but it’s not always clear who is attempting to make changes to food consumption or exercise levels and who isn’t.

    I’ve always wondered about smoking around hospitals. My instinct is that it has to be bad practice, but then if a smoker is coping with withdrawal symptoms, is their body attempting to fight that, while also trying to heal from whatever they are in the hospital for in the first place? I’d be interested to know how that works.

    A very emotive topic and some level of personal responsibility is most definitely required.

  8. Good post John. I agree with you. I also think something is very wrong with the system where some people have to choose between eating or heating and yet others can run a £130 a day fast food habit on state handouts.

  9. In America, we deal with similar health and welfare issues- I think that people on welfare programs should use the programs as they are meant to be implemented, and not take advantage of the benefits they receive. There also has to be a line. I think, at some point, the government should stop or limit paying out to people who are misusing benefits, including free or low-cost healthcare, or give them other options for treatment. Most of the people mentioned (smokers, drinkers, over-eaters) are dealing with some kind of addiction and would probably benefit from treatment that helped them address those issues. Obviously, it would have to be determined on a case by case basis because everyone’s situation is different, and this would be entirely too expensive. I also support the government getting more involved in regulating nutrition and education, especially in schools – some school lunches are downright disgusting. Teaching good nutrition and healthy lifestyles to children and adults of all economic states should be a priority.

    I quit smoking about a year and a half ago, and when I was a smoker, I would have been very indignant about the government getting involved in what I considered my own bad habit. When I finally decided to quit, I went to the other side of the spectrum. I hate smelling smoke or walking through other people’s cigarette smoke clouds. There aren’t really a lot of resources to help people trying to quit, as I found out when I tried to find some facts or programs to help me quit- the most useful thing I learned was that only 10% of people who try to quit smoking are successful. Most hospitals here are entirely smoke-free, you can’t even smoke in the parking lots. I think most healthcare professionals are too overworked to provide good education and the proper treatment to people with lifestyle-related illnesses, from smoking, unhealthy eating, and excessive drinking, and most people ignore them anyway. There’s sort of a culture of selfishness in America where no one wants to be told they’re doing something wrong.

  10. As a surgeon I am called upon to treat all sorts of self inflicted problems. I don’t think it is right to deny treatment to someone based on the assumption that, since they had a hand in it, they should not receive care. Granted, the cost of treatment is shared by everyone, but many conditions can have personal irresponsibility as a factor. The government does have a responsibility to set guidelines, and provide help when needed for smoking cessation, obesity, drug addiction, and other similar ills.

  11. Yes, people should take responsibility for the health, weight, and choices whenever possible. However, I think it is morally wrong to deny someone treatment just because the condition is “self-inflicted”. Despite the wealth of information about the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise, there are many reasons why people might have difficulty applying it to their own lives. A lot of these negative behaviors are addictive and I think it’s wrong to deny someone treatment just because they let themselves fall into a bad habit. Should we deny treatment to people in motorcycle accidents because they are engaging in high risk behaviors? Perhaps the insurance premium should be higher based on your lifestyle, but to outright deny treatment is just wrong.

  12. Great thought provoking post on a very difficult subject. My husband and I often have conversations like this – he has worked in the NHS for years and sees both the instances and the data first hand.

    I should start by saying that I totally agree with the idea that everyone should take personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing. And if they make poor choices, it can seem like a no-brainer: you smoke, you get lung cancer. Tough luck, see ya later! The problem comes when we really start to try to analyse this apparently simple cause and effect. Firstly, this hypothetical cancer cannot be attributed solely to smoking – yes, it significantly raises the risk, but other factors including diet, lifestyle and genetics play a part. Then we need to think about the factors that attribute to things like diet and lifestyle, including education, what’s easily and cheaply available, social norms and mental health.

    Each individual case fractures into hundreds of tiny pieces, making it impossible to ever draw a solid line on who should be treated and who shouldn’t. All we can do at the coal-face is continue to be a (mostly!) civilised nation, and continue treating everyone.

    That said, of course there are some factors in there – social and educational – that the government and other in-charge bodies have some influence over. We could always be doing more to teach people how to live better, to make it more difficult to smoke, eat unhealthily etc. Question is, where is the money going to come from to make that happen? Want to pay more tax?! I’m being deliberately provocative – I don’t know the answers either. But I think it’s great that you’re encouraging others to think about it!

  13. I definitely agree with you. I live in the U.S. and I see people blaming others for their poor choices. Fast food chains have been sued for people gaining weight because they claim the food is addictive. I think that people should take responsibility for their own choices; for example, if eating McDonald’s is making you gain weight, no one is holding a gun to your head and making you eat there. Although each individual case is different, you conclusion is spot on.

  14. Quite how the woman in the article manages to spend so much from her benefits on junk food I’m not sure. I’m currently on JSA and I don’t get that much every week. Besides it’s cheaper to cook from scratch anyway.

    People do seem all too willing to blame everyone else for their problems and we seem to be moving towards a very American blame culture where, whatever happens to you, you find someone to sue. Even so I can’t agree with the premise of not treating people because they smoke or are overweight. For one, we all pay into the NHS, even those who are overweight, smoke or drink, so we should all benefit from it. Where do you draw the line? Should we stop treating skiers who break bones, runners with damaged knees or motorcyclists who fall off? Education and support is the way forward and the woman in the article needs the former.

  15. It’s amazing how things can change so quickly. As a medical student I found many hospitals had smoking and non smoking coffee rooms in the operating theatres, and some consultants would smoke cigars in clinics in between seeing patients ( and I’m not old!) now smoking is banned, at my hospital staff are not allowed to smoke on the premises, so people walk off site in their lunch hour to go for a smoke, or you see them sitting in their cars smoking! But mainly so many people have just given up smoking or had to cut down which is what it’s all about.
    The smokers would argue that we shouldn’t treat runners who injure themselves etc – especially as they don’t contribute to the tax economy like they (the smokers) do.
    But in the end I agree with you, it’s all down to personal responsibility. I think that society has a duty to educate everyone so that they have the tools to find out what they need to know and the wherewithal to do what they choose, but in the end we only have ourselves to blame.

  16. Totally agree. I think the crux of it is, people will never look to themselves and realise they’re the ones that have caused the problem. It’s easier to palm the blame off on someone else than it is to face up to facts. That’s like me saying it’s my son’s fault that I put on 3 stone after he was born – but fact is, it’s my fault for being lazy and not sticking to clean eating. I’ve only myself to blame and only myself to fix it.

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