Health and Wellbeing: why don't we do what we know is good for us?

As the saying goes: ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. According to new research, the saying is as true now as it has ever been when it comes to how we look after our own health and wellbeing.

The research, detailed in a report entitled Picture of Health and published by Philips UKI , surveyed over 2,000 members of the public and 400 healthcare professionals (HCPs) from across the UK, with the aim of better understanding the barriers to the effective management of our health and the prevention of lifestyle-related diseases.

The results highlighted that, while more than three-quarters (76%) of respondents agreed that establishing good habits is key to combating poor health in the future, less than half (45%) are actively managing their health.

So why are so few of us making positive steps to maintaining our health?

First, we can try to understand where people believe the responsibility for their health and wellbeing lies. The results of the research are clear on that point, highlighting that a staggering 87% of individuals and 94% of HCPs questioned believe that preventing poor health is entirely the individual’s responsibility.

Correspondingly, however, more than a third (37%) - rising to 50% among Millennials - believe that the government should take a greater role in legislating for better health. This raises the question as to why - on one hand - so many individuals are accepting accountability for their own health, but on the other, are failing to act upon it?

The reality is that, in general, adults across the UK maintain a reactive outlook to their health. They act only when physical symptoms drive them to make changes (71%), or when their doctor warns them to do so (69%). When viewed in the context of an increasingly unhealthy Britain, with levels of obesity across the UK set to double by 2050, this reactionary approach to our health seems doomed to failure.

So it’s key that we need to somehow translate this clear sense of responsibility for managing our own health into action, and move away from the ‘ostrich syndrome’ highlighted by this report. Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities for achieving such a transformation is in the better use of the many tools and sources of information now available to us.

We’re seeing this happen to an extent already, with a substantial rise in the number of people using search engines such as Google to self-diagnose, before even approaching a HCP for advice. This is a reality that is increasingly seeing us gather information online and through social sources, to build our own idea of what is healthy.

Whereas this might seem like a step in the right direction, it’s actually resulting in an ‘information overload’, and a huge knowledge gap is building between what we think we know about health and the real facts. For example, the report highlights that while 68% of public questioned believe they know what constitutes a healthy sleep pattern, HCPs believe only 28% of people actually know the real answer.

So even amongst those of us who are actually driven to do something about our health and wellbeing, we are not necessarily equipping ourselves effectively to do so. Information for information’s sake is not the answer. It needs to be personalised and connected, utilising not only the individual’s drive and commitment to bettering their health, but also that of their families, friends and healthcare team.

There are positive signs ahead, and I firmly believe a better and healthier future exists within the convergence of prevention, personalised care and the power of personalised data. With this in mind, one of the most positive trends identified by the report is the increasing use of connected devices such as wearable tech and smartphone apps.

While currently just one in ten people track their health in this way, tending to be the younger generation or Millennials, those that are doing so believe it has helped them to change bad habits, exercise more and improve their diet.

Tracking and assessing their health more accurately allows the user to clearly view their progress, and provides more realistic and achievable health-related goals. Moreover, if this data can then be shared with a HCP, there’s the potential to build an even clearer picture of overall health, and perhaps even predict health issues before any physical symptoms have occurred.

Predicting, and therefore preventing illness, is crucial to improving overall population health and closing the gap between our aspiration for better health and wellbeing, and the individual actions we’re taking to do so.

Making use of devices that help us to better understand and personalise the management of our health is just one positive step that can be made to help achieve this. The effective sharing and harnessing of health information between the individual user and their nurse or doctor is another.

I believe the ultimate answer lies in the power of connected care solutions – empowering individuals and healthcare professionals to see the big picture, with access to better, more personalised data, and the promise of better health outcomes.

This article was first published in The Information Daily, which is owned by Boilerhouse Media, and is associated with our other titles and platforms, including PublicServiceDigital; Making a Difference with Data; Health Innovation Monitor; and Neighbourhood Planner.

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