Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Your health, your responsibility

A report issued today by Cancer Research has highlighted that 40% of cancers are directly attributed to our lifestyles.  Smoking, drinking, being overweight, lack of fruit and veg are just some of the factors that can directly be linked to cancer. 

So in fact if you turn those figures around, if you don’t do those things, you are 40% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer in the future.  Obviously though there are some factors such as smoking that are much higher contributors than others, but the facts remain.

Now there are calls for the government to do more to tackle this issue.  But my question is, why should it be down to the government?  I’m all for the government taking responsibility for things that they actually have some control over, and in terms of treatment of cancers I believe that of course the health service has a huge part to play.  But equally do we not have some personal responsibility here? 

The risks of smoking for instance are well documented, and over the years a number of laws have come into force to highlight those risks and to make cigarettes less appealing.  But ultimately if someone chooses to continue smoking, even knowing the risks that is down to their personal choice and not something the government is in a position to tackle? 

Similarly alcohol is already controversial due to the binge drinking culture that exists in the UK.  And while there have been calls for no more happy hours in pubs/offers in supermarkets etc, the choice to drink still comes down to the individual.

And we all know that you should eat “five a day,” there are enough labels on products in the supermarket to indicate that this or that product is one of your “five a day,” but even so there is plenty of information out there, so most people should know that eating fruit and veg is healthy, while not doing so is not. 

The government can surely only be expected to do more in terms of education/provision of health services.  But when it comes to actually taking responsibility for our lifestyles that responsibility has to lie with the individuals. 

If you smoke 30 a day for twenty years and develop cancer as a result, the only person responsible for that is you. 

Equally if you drink to excess for twenty years and develop cancer as a result (or any of the other diseases linked to alcohol for that matter) the only person responsible for that is you.

And the same applies for people who are overweight/who live unhealthy lifestyles due to lack of fruit/veg/other healthy foods. 

We are ultimately responsible for our own wellbeing.  For many reasons we abdicate that responsibility and instead live our lives for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  But at the end of the day if we live an unhealthy lifestyle and have to face the consequences of that lifestyle further down the line, no-one else was responsible for that.  No-one makes anyone else start smoking or drinking or sit out in the sun for hours – we all have free will, and free choice. 

If by some unfortunate circumstance we end up becoming ill as a result of our lifestyles then of course the government, or in actual fact the health service, should provide the treatment and care needed.  But it is time we started taking responsibility for our own lives and health and acknowledging that some of the factors that lead to the health problems we suffer are a direct result of the choices we personally make.


  1. Although I see your point you're missing out on something quite crucial : addiction is an illness. Whether that be addiction to drugs, gambling, smoking or alcohol, although no-one can stop an addict becoming an addict, the government can help people quit.

    This of course would involve an injection of funds into the health service to help people quit, and the Daily Mail readers would rise up against that, because alcoholism, drug addiction and smoking related illnesses are nasty things that happen to other people.

    There are far more alcoholics around than people think - functioning alcoholics albeit - but as much of a drain on the health resources as junkies and smokers.

    I don't think any smoker, drinker, or junkie who falls ill will ever say it was nothing to do with their habit, and they won't blame the government. Every addict I have ever come across knows full well what they are doing is wrong, but they need help to help themselves.

  2. I do get that, but even getting help for addiction is something that only the addict can take responsibility for. So although the government can put processes and resources in place (funding permitting), the responsibility to utilize those processes still lies with the individual.