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Too much humbug is bad for you


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Friday, 6 January 2012

Too much humbug is bad for you

Despite a mountain of evidence that New Year resolutions don’t work, every lazy hack, drink-sodden blogger and self-help charlatan in creation spends the first week in January peddling the fiction that we can all be stick-thin, smoke-free, teetotal, bench-pressing worshippers at the Church of Self Denial and Public Health.

Even normally sensible organisations lose the plot. NICE has issued guidance “to help individuals achieve their resolutions and keep to them” – as rash and unscientific a claim as you’re likely to read all year. 

All the “guidance” actually does is shame people into adopting healthier lifestyles and encourage some health professionals to be even more unbearably smug than they are already. 

It contains amazing facts, such as “those who quit smoking are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables”, but omits inconvenient ones, like the fact that people who quit smoking are also likely to hit the booze harder and eat more cake to make themselves feel better. 

The NICE website runs the story under the headline: “New Year, new lifestyle, new you”, which carries health risks of its own. Prolonged exposure to such breezy guff is proven to make even the most abstemious reach for the crack pipe, the Special Brew and the Old Holborn. 

It’s also a clue to why an estimated four-fifths of resolutions will have been abandoned by Valentine’s Day. The aspirations are not yours at all. The “new you” is somebody else’s idea. You might sign up to it temporarily because you feel guilty. But that’s not a motive or an incentive. 

The false premise is that health is a benefit. It isn’t. Only very sick people can see the benefit and by then it’s too late. 

People won’t give things up for a new them. They might do it for someone else. TV ads featuring tearful kids wishing that mummy wasn’t dying of lung cancer work a treat. It would all have been very different if mummy had read the relevant guidance, or even smoked it.

According to NICE: “Around 7 million of us will make a New Year’s resolution to improve our health, but sticking to it can be tough, particularly through the dark winter months ahead.”  

As evidence goes, this is inconclusive. It would be useful to know how many of the 7 million newly resolved make it through the study period referred to as “the dark winter months ahead”. How many more would be saved by bolstering their resolve with some extra guidance? 

Every time you feel the urge for a cigarette, see the Smoking Prevention and Cessation Overview on page 476 of the New Much Less Smelly and Unhealthy You Quick Reference Guide. This page is also now available as a patch.

Nowhere in the NICE guidance is there any reference to God. This is a major flaw. The Christian fundamentalist website www.theresurgence.com contains this show-stopper for would-be resolutionaries:

“Every once in a while, people start a New Year’s resolution and it sticks. But most don't. That’s because (1) you are a sinner and (2) your heart is an idol factory.”

Mark Twain wrote: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

So there you have it, sinners. Whatever you do, you’re bound to fail. Get over it and have a happy New Year.

rejack says:
Jan 06, 2012 10:52 AM
I can see NICE guidance looming and a new set of quality metrics :-))
This has brightened my morning and taken the guilt out of the fact that i didn't walk to work, had a full fat latte and am considering a glass of red this evening. Keep up the good work....
giovanna.forte@funnellyenough.com says:
Jan 06, 2012 11:33 AM
A wonderful insight of logic and sense to accompany my toasted bacon sarnie ... thank you very much. I'm smiling now.
swarmington says:
Jan 09, 2012 11:25 AM
As recommended by Ross Noble (Sunday Night Show), a couple of health messages could be -
a) Eat only from a plate, using cutlery;
b) if it comes in a bucket, eating it is probably not a good idea.
Seems to me that more people may be reached by messages in TV soap operas than by the extremely irritating (and probably expensive) TV screens appearing in GP practices up and down the land.