Understanding The Failures Of Preventative Health Systems
What Can Be Done To Establish A More Prominent Role For Preventative Health Measures In Society
The failures of preventative health are as much down to external forces as they are to their long standing systems.
To briefly set the scene, it wasn’t long ago that the health sector was singularly about healthcare. Separated were the wellness, active leisure, sports and then the fitness industries. Healthcare was not focused on preventative measures but excelled in sickcare.
In 2022 the fitness & wellness industry is a $4.5T monster that includes so many dimensions of preventive health. We have come a long way, very quickly, to understand the importance of preventative health within the context of modern society, but the solutions aren’t making people healthier.
Progress is being made, but public health is worsening by many critical measures as the complexities of the modern world supersede the influence of even the most innovative preventative health services.
By 2030 50% of US adults will be obese and 65% will not get enough daily activity to manage their health. 60% of the calories consumed are from ultra-processed, nutrient-devoid foods. Widespread mental health has plummeted, with the biggest killer of under 45s in the UK being suicide. Our social health continues to deteriorate as loneliness and anti-social measures rise rapidly.
All these problems are linked. What we eat influences our mental health, our movement influences our dietary choices, our social health is influenced by our mental health, our mental health is influenced by our activity and so on. It’s a complete circle, with the deterioration of all of these components resulting in compounding health issues and chronic conditions.
90% of $4T US healthcare costs are tied to preventable chronic conditions. The UK’s National Health Service spends over £15B a year on preventable diseases. The secondary effects multiply significantly with sick days, public discourse and impacts on areas like COVID protection. There remains no solid strategy for managing health from a preventable standpoint.
As healthcare focuses on sickcare and the number of patients increases systems have shown signs of cracking under the pressure. The result is poorer care and long term solutions not being established. This continues the compounding of poor health for more of the population.
Healthcare systems struggle to attach themselves to preventative measures. There is an understanding of the requirement for treatments that start with increasing activity, dietary support and community integration, but the connections are scarcely available.
The Wellness Fallacy
We talk about wellness and its core concepts of fitness, nutrition and mental health now more than ever. Yet somehow the $4.5T collection of industries has failed to support population health. The fitness industry has long struggled to penetrate more than 20% of Western populations, focusing on their established market. Nutrition innovation has failed to bring the costs of nutritional foods down. Mental health services from apps to therapists have not been able to deliver mass solutions given the scale of the problem. Wellness does not hold meaning to the majority of people.
There are as many bad actors as purposeful professionals. The naive and increasingly desperate consumer can easily be taken advantage of which reinforces the negative cycle of problematic business practices and people failing to sustain their health journey.
This should not take away from the incredible innovations that are quickly solving crucial problems within the sector. Led by widespread technological progress our understanding of the body and ability to create solutions at scale is cause for optimism. Scale remains vital, as demonstrated by the golden-child of fitness and wellness (Peloton) failing to expand into the wider market and lead the societal change towards healthier practices.
Dominant Global Forces
Health support systems are at the mercy of big food, big pharma, big tech etc. Their products and services do more to harm health than support it and their power and influence diminish the impact of health-focused organisations attempting to make positive change.
These organisations hold significant power and influence over governments as well, restraining meaningful top-down change. They will only respond to change within society that ultimately hurt their profits. There are currently no incentives for them to focus on healthier solutions as foundations for their business practices.
Complete Health > Wellness
We need to move away from wellness and address health directly. Fundamentals of education and support systems link to a greater desire to maintain health. Health should be seen as a journey not arbitrary destinations.
Every dimension of our health can be viewed in the 6 dimensions of the Complete Health model. Physical, nutritional, mental and social health are reinforced with health intelligence and health longevity.
Physical health covers our activity and recovery states. Nutritional covers what we consume. Mental our mindset. Social our interactions and communications. Intelligence our understanding and adaptability. Longevity our perspective and journey maintenance.
Everything we do fits into one of these categories, giving a clear view of what actions are required to support our health. Learning what foods we need and why develops our health intelligence and nutrition health. Walking with a friend supports our physical health and social health. Mediating every morning for 10 minutes supports our mental health and health longevity. We need very clear actions that teach us about ourselves, creating a strong relationship with our health.
Delivering Complete Health
Wellness is an incoherent and fragmented mess based largely on pseudoscience and inflated claims. We need a clear and relatable view of our holistic health to be central to the way organisations in the sector do business. A set of solutions that more people resonate with and find meaning and accessibility in their pursuit.
This is the role active spaces can have - read about the potential of active spaces here