Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Tackling Health Policy within Capitalism

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

A discussion feature by MAT DAVIES

The NHS has delivered significant achievements in terms of research and curative medicine. Many of my Japanese students are amazed at the results of nationalised research projects which at first glance appear limited by a modest budget.

Regardless, British politicians must start seriously considering the ramifications of an ageing population and the mushrooming non-communicative diseases (NCDs) throughout Britain. The NHS, and health policy, must no longer be part of a political football game.  There are problems affecting the mental, physical, economic and social health of the country. And it is a consequence of our history and its outcomes under capitalism.

For example, our bodies are not designed for the high salt, fat and sugary foods which have become a staple in many households. We stopped living in roaming tribes relatively recently, and we only developed a state-based society following the introduction of an agricultural diet some 12,000 years ago.

Consequently, the cost of surplus carbohydrates meant that larger human groupings emerged as in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Genetically, however, we haven’t adjusted to all of these changes – and that coupled with modern capitalist-based lifestyles has led to a number of economic problems.

HEALTH POLICY WITHIN CAPITALISM:

Former adviser to President Clinton, Benjamin Barber, has illustrated how the process of corrupting children and infantilising adults is a threat to health policy and, he argues, democracy itself. This comes through marketing campaigns which target children, and thereby their parents, in the process of creating needs from wants.  The effects are worrying (as shown in the wide reaching documentary, Supersize Me).

For example, mass salt intake leads to hypertension and sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes. This was observed dramatically in the Nairu islanders whose diets were changed significantly after World War Two.  As Jared Diamond pointed out, they are now the most obese Pacific island population. Diabetes has increased massively since the first case in 1925, the second in 1934, to a staggering 70 per cent of the current population. There is a clear correlation between the modern lifestyle and NCDs.

However, some NCDs occur due to the simple fact that we’re living longer. Studies have shown that the effects of exercise and language learning counteract the brain’s metabolism in order to starve off dementia. Healthier lifestyles are an area where policy makers need to act. The physical wellbeing of individuals, the public cost of the NHS, and mental health are interlinked.

The impact of marketing and advertising has led to a bizarre obsession with what constitutes beauty. This has led to an unnatural perception of what makes a person attractive. It’s not surprising that there’s a rocketing of Anorexia victims, and many other mental illnesses.

There are natural ways to improve our health. Exercising regularly can produce an endorphin rush, whilst depression compounded by alcohol and cigarettes is a debilitating affliction, which can be countered by regular exercise. Sadly the UK has become a nation of pill poppers with medication being used to alter the brain’s chemical circuitry.

TACKLING THE CHALLENGE!

Welsh Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, pointed out that the NHS is under stress due to the effects of excessive drinking and smoking. He then proposed a mandatory approach from Westminster, including a tax, with the intention of reducing sugar in processed food.  British people already pay 50 per cent tax or more once direct and shadow taxes are taken into account. That is significantly higher (15-30 per cent) than in countries such as Germany and Japan. Should we really tax British people more?

A mature policy approach would instead look outwards to how other countries have responded, and look inward at the nuances that are quintessentially British.  Japan has seen its obesity levels fall to 3.5 per cent through a mixture of home education and sanctions. There is also a care in the community approach for victims of dementia which reduces care costs. The UK could learn from other countries, but a national policy review is needed.

At the present time increasing (shadow) taxes to pay for the rise of NCDs appear likely, since privatisation is thankfully a toxic subject. I would argue that the most humane and rational approach is to develop a policy which couples a public awareness campaign starting with the intake of salt, and to then find a middle ground between the individual and society. This means that both companies and individuals will need to pay for the consequences of their personal and business choices.

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