What is the role of personal responsibility in health?

Nearly half of all deaths from cancer are caused by known modifiable risk factors, with smoking, alcohol consumption, and high body mass index (BMI) among the top three, notes the Union for International Cancer Control. The promise of breakthrough drugs to help people lose weight must not be used as an excuse to avoid tackling the root causes of obesity.

Contributing to the high BMI are products such as sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods, which the group maintains are — like tobacco and alcohol — potentially addictive. All these products are marketed by companies whose corporate interests often outweigh concerns for global health, but what happened to personal responsibility?

As a healthcare marketer, I understand that education and income have to do with nutritional choices. I also appreciate that many well-educated and higher-income people make the wrong market choices. I recently saw an obese woman put sugary drinks and foods on the checkout lane. There must have been at least three pounds of sugar added to her family’s diet with her choices. This is a massive danger to all of us.

To make matters worse, doctors are going along with this newly invented Orwellian world where there are no good foods or bad foods, where you can be healthy at any weight…I’m sorry. It’s just not true. The government is subsidizing the lousy food for our kids, and then the government is subsidizing the increased healthcare costs because everyone has diabetes now. And, you wonder why the taxpayers are livid as to why these systems are all broken.

To allow people to give their healthcare provider a card that says “don’t weigh me” is a head-in-the-sand syndrome. Patients should be reminded that they are obese and that is they don’t do something, they will get sick with multiple health conditions.

Now ranging in age from 27 to 42, Millennials are suffering strokes at higher rates than their forebears did during the same period, reversing a 40-year decline in stroke deaths. There are many potential explanations for this disconcerting trend. Rising stress, falling physical activity levels, and fewer doctor visits among Millennials could all play a role.

Childhood obesity is particularly noxious regarding early stroke, and Millennials were the first generation to be affected by this alarming trend. The rate of childhood obesity more than tripled from 5% in 1978 to 18.5% in 2016, leaving many more children burdened by associated conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which can lead to a stroke.

So why is this happening with well-educated people who earn enough to make better choices? First, food brings instant gratification to many. Second, too many people blame their obesity on factors outside their control (blaming game). Finally, they have no incentive to take control of their health. Too many people know that any health issue can be solved with an Rx. Doctors are not doing any of us good when they say, “we don’t know the causes of obesity.” Yes, we do; too much bad food and too little exercise.

I would love to eat BBQ brisket every day and have a burger three times a week, but I understand the ramifications of making poor choices. More education is needed, and frankly, those who are obese should pay more in healthcare insurance because they cost us ALL more.

Personal responsibility has to be part of the equation.