Habit-changing the hard way


Stubborn, addicted, or just plain thick? When it comes to breaking unhealthy habits, it’s hard to change.

A recent article published by Statistics Canada titled Health behaviour changes after diagnosis of chronic illness among Canadians aged 50 or older, tells us that not many of us are likely to change our behavior, even after we suffer consequences: research results indicate that only 4% of smokers aged 50 or older give up the habit after being diagnosed with heart disease.

It gets worse. In the case of respiratory diseases this number is even smaller – only 2%. Yet, smoking cessation is the most frequently reported behavior change after a chronic illness diagnosis. The other obvious and seemingly easy changes such as increased physical activity or observance of 5 or more fruit and vegetable servings per day were also rarely put into practise.

Surprising? Maybe not. Don’t we all know since childhood that smoking kills, that physical activity is a key to healthy lifestyle and that apple – or rather, five of them – a day. is what keeps the doctor away? Surely this resistance to adopt a healthy lifestyle cannot be explained by lack of awareness, not today, when the public health campaigns are visible and audible at every moment of our lives.

It becomes clear that telling people what’s wrong is not enough. If a mature person aged 50 or more cannot be trusted to change his/her health habits at the time when it is of vital importance, one can hardly expect a child or an adolescent to stick to healthy routines and habits. Mere persuasion and education can no longer be considered an effective measure for change.

It is obvious that the food industry and health policies need to change in order to assist Canadians in changing unhealthy habits. Just like the war on tobacco, hypertension experts argue that sodium and sugar needs to be less prevalent in our diets, and regulation is the only way to make that happen.

“Salt is ubiquitous, and it’s harming our health. If trends do not change, salt could cause as much harm as tobacco,” states Dr. Norm Campbell, the Canadian Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control, funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada in partnership with the CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health.

One problem is that the ‘default choice’− readily available everywhere from grocery stores to food courts − is often the unhealthy choice. “People can eat as unhealthy as they want,” Campbell says, “but the default choice, the easy choice, should be healthy food.” In reducing hypertension, the scope of the challenge is vast, touching on public policy, more rapid screening and diagnosis, food industry practices, and more. But Dr. Campbell is optimistic.“From working with national organizations and committed individuals who are like-minded I believe we can create a healthier Canada.”



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