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The Official Newsletter of
updated January 1, 2013

Why We Choose to be Sick

by Ron Brown, Ph.D., author of The Body Fat Guide 

"Ron Brown is a certified fitness trainer who doesn't have an inch of flab on his body. He'll tell you what you can do to become fit and trim too." 
Washington DC


AS THE PREVALENCE OF infectious diseases diminish in our society, and chronic diseases related to unhealthy lifestyles increase, choosing between sickness and health becomes a matter of weighing the costs and benefits of changing our lifestyle. If we perceive that choosing a healthy lifestyle is too difficult, confusing, or inconvenient, or that it imposes too many restrictions on our social life, we will often choose to be sick instead. We may then rationalize our choice of sickness over health by convincing ourselves that life is short and that we should enjoy it while we can. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as we inevitably die prematurely, become disabled, or suffer a drawn-out and painful death while placing an added burden on society with our illness and denying society the benefits of our productivity. By contrast, a person who chooses a healthy lifestyle enjoys a long and product life, makes greater overall contributions to society, and is filled with joy and peace to the end.  

The medical healthcare system, which relies on treating illness to generate revenues, is a powerful factor that influences us to choose to be sick. Why bother with healthy lifestyle changes when we can just swallow a pill or have surgery to fix what ails us? The truth is that the symptomatic treatment provided by the medical profession and pharmaceutical companies interferes with the normal healing response of the body, does not remove the cause of the health problem, and often applies poisonous substances that increase the toxic burden on our bodies, causing adverse health effects that include death.  

We may also ask ourselves why we should bother to change our lifestyle when the media tells us that our lifespan is increasing under the current system. But a recent study of the global burden of disease published in the Lancet showed that while people may be living longer, we are also suffering with greater levels of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. And no one knows how long we could live under a system focused on primary prevention through improved lifestyle choices, rather than maintaining a system that symptomatically treats diseases caused by ad-lib lifestyles, i.e., living any haphazard way you like.

One of the leading psychologists of our time, Dr. John Prochaska noted that people often arenít successful in making lifestyle changes, not because they donít want to change, but because they donít know how to make changes! Primary care physicians, who people rely on the most for health advice, are often as ignorant as their patients about how to actually change to a healthy lifestyle. Prochaskaís research found that people need to plan changes in five stages: moving from a precontemplation stage, in which people lack awareness of the problem, to contemplate why the change is necessary and beneficial, to prepare to make the change after fully assessing the costs and benefits, to putting the change plan into action, and to planning strategies that maintain the change until it becomes crystallized into a new lifestyle habit.  

The current health debate between personal responsibility and social responsibility is yet another influence affecting our healthy lifestyle choices. Some people are obsessed with fear over a potential ďnanny stateĒ that forces the public to surrender their personal liberty and follow an authoritarian order demanding social conformity to a predetermined healthy lifestyle. If that were actually the case, I would agree with their concern. However, the other side of the debate argues that a society with an unregulated free market quickly becomes corrupt, and that self-interested groups have gained political control of our agricultural, educational, financial, industrial, and healthcare systems, manipulating them for material gain at the cost of the general publicís welfare. The solution to the debate is to find a balance between personal and social responsibility within our society.  

One fact remains obvious: It is extremely difficult for people to take personal responsibility and make healthy lifestyle changes when they live in a society that lacks social responsibility to provide the support and resources necessary to make those changes. The elimination or reduction of many infectious diseases is an example of how we all benefit when our society takes the social responsibility to regulate public sanitation and hygiene standards. A society that balances personal and social responsibility to reduce chronic disease by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices would still allow us the personal freedom to choose to be sick, but why choose to be sick if society provided a better option for us?

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