You know Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy, of Jimmy Fallon era SNL fame? Well, I’m Your Company’s Wellness Woman, of “I could be on The Office right now” fame.
It’s not that I’m the indignant, self-righteous “solution” to your woes, a la Nick Burns and his ilk. But my people have certainly earned a reputation as such. We take away your Snickers from the vending machine, post preachy blabber in the kitchenette, death stare when you take the elevator, share unsolicited “advice” about your pizza lunch, and drop “quinoa” into every other sentence. And how hard could it possibly be to GET UP AND TAKE A WALK AT LUNCH?!
As I was saying, we’ve earned it.
But Wellness, and public health campaigns in general, don’t have to be a Nanny State writ large. Here’s the why and how:
- The Problem: We are in the midst of a health cost, quality, and outcome epidemic, with a web of underlying causes. We pay about three times as much for one of the industrialized world’s poorest performing health care systems. About one third of the nation is obese. Today, the average American burns 100 fewer calories per day at work than in 1960; eats over 500 more calories than in 1970; and costs us all $7,182 more per person than in 1970.
People can and should make their own choices about their personal health and well-being. But what if not everyone has reliable access to healthy foods, to safe walkable neighborhoods, to doctors that speak their language and accept their insurance, or to a stable job and paycheck that allows them the time to plan, cook, and pack healthy meals every week?
Or what if people just have other priorities? Thanks to the Internet, we now have more information than we could ever possibly use, which is a problem, because most people aren’t very good at, or have enough time for, curating*. They need solid, useful information filtered by people who know what the hell is going on.
- The Solution: Relevant, science-based, and smart messages that inform clearly and offer realistic alternatives. A manageable number of high-quality options like vending machines that offer pretzels and M&Ms, but list the stats for each; health insurance exchanges that offer several well-designed, high-quality, and well-priced plans; neighborhoods with well-lit parks and paths. Et cetera.
Who manages the solution? It could be the public health department. It could be a health insurance company. Or it could be me, your non-preachy Wellness Woman. As long as we provide good information and real choices, we are setting ourselves up for unintrusive, personal responsibility-laden success.
Of course, there are lots of other public health issues that demand more than passive information sharing because either the risks are so great, or there is no incentive to act without legislative action — smoking, seat belt use, or workplace safety come to mind. That’s another (forthcoming) post entirely.
*For fascinating thoughts on organizing the watershed of information that is the Internet, check out this Freakonomics podcast with Pandora founder Tim Westergren.