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Incentives for healthy living?

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:47am

red_and_green_grapes The outgoing president of Diabetes Australia recently said that Australians need to be coerced into living healthier lives through incentive programs and greater access to medical care.

He said Australia is fighting a ‘losing battle’ against diabetes and that healthy Australians and their workplaces should be rewarded with tax incentives.

Are we really that weak and lacking in willpower that we need rewards for living healthily and - I was about to write ‘normally’ but I suppose healthy living isn’t the norm anymore, is it?

It’s apparent that we are.

In a perfect world, education and media campaigns would show the detrimental effects of overeating, smoking and excessive drinking. People would then understand the harm they are doing to their bodies, and, would hopefully stop doing it. This works to an extent, but clearly not enough.

The government has dabbled with the idea of raising taxes for junk food and cigarettes.  Offputting, yes, but people have spoken out blatantly saying that they would still be happy to pay $20 for a packet of cigarettes, so again, the efficacy of this would perhaps be limited.

The bottom line, though, is that the burden of preventable disease on hospitals and the economy is simply out of control.

And so, the inevitable argument has arrived: tax breaks for healthy living.

The fact that incentives are being considered as the next step in managing preventable disease highlights a disappointing aspect of human nature; that is, that we privileged humans want to be rewarded for ‘doing the right thing’.

A recent article in  The Age  suggested government-funded running to help curb obesity and depression. Again proving the point that this may work because it’s free and therefore is more appealing and achievable. 

I shudder to think what those less fortunate around the world who don’t even have enough food to eat would think of this concept and indeed us as a nation.

‘Son, did you know that in Australia, people get money from their government to eat fruits and exercise?’ the father told his son as he picked fruit from a nearby bush.

‘Wow,’ the son said, glancing back at the 6km track leading to their village. ‘They must be really sad. Those poor people.’

When it comes to maintaining good health, the rewards are simple: feeling and looking great, both on the inside and out, and living a rich, fulfilled life as a result. There is no substitute for that, monetary or otherwise.

I think we need to take a good long hard look at ourselves and consider the chance we have. We need to stop thinking that it is too hard to live a healthy life, and too easy to get the right care if something goes wrong - because it may not be. 

Here’s a thought: incentives for healthy living? Well, what about punishments for unhealthy living? I suppose the punishment will become evident if we ever reach the point whereby treatments need to be prioritised in terms of care because our system simply can’t cope - preventable diseases may be fairly low down on the list.

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