As a young person just beginning my career as a physician, it is extraordinarily overwhelming to confront the disconnect between the values that created our Medicare system and the logistics of how it has evolved. Despite those incredible challenges, I am more so struck on a daily basis in practice by the manner in which our fundamental way of living perpetuates our dependency on the health care system and its emphasis on medical interventions.
Medicine pays adequate lip service to the idea of health promotion and prevention by focussing on key lifestyle interventions that can impact disease processes. Most Canadians could confidently recite that “good” eating, smoking cessation, alcohol and drug avoidance, and regular exercise might make them healthier. Discussion in medical school teaching often includes a routine allusion to the idea of the “social determinants of health,” while fundamentally failing to harness the profound therapeutic potential of radical lifestyle changes. (While I will explore this topic further in future posts, I must share Dr Terry Wahls’ TEDx Talk in which she explains her incredible recovery from end stage multiple sclerosis using food as medicine. Dr. Wahls has begun a clinical trial to test whether her own experience can be replicated in others with MS.)
While diet, exercise, and substance abuse are obvious means of impacting population health though, I have become acutely aware that some of the basic social ideals by which we live are greatly impeding our ability to be well. Though the TEDTalk mentioned above is only one in an amazing and extensive collection of work by physicians and other health care professionals related to medicine and health care, I have found myself most influenced recently by Graham Hill’s lecture entitled “Less Stuff, More Happiness.”
He very convincingly makes the case that there is a certain threshold after which additional consumption of material objects starts to mean less satisfaction. It’s also a win-win-win situation, he argues, because less stuff doesn’t only mean more happiness but also greater environmental sustainability, less debt, and better efficiency. This feels profoundly true as I examine the collection of “things” that has accumulated in my own apartment since my journey through undergraduate and medical school, and which has grown significantly through the recent addition of my partner and all of the stuff that he’s collected over the years. This inundation with material objects and our false sense of attachment to them is an enormous source of our daily stress. In my next post, I will explore the concept of Affluenza and the evidence for links between consumerism and physical illness.