You can get garden variety health advice from the daily newspaper, the "health" section of most book stores, and of course thousands of web sites. I'm hoping to present thought provoking and maybe change provoking thoughts about individual and community health. This blog is not just what to do about health, but how to think about it. I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas with readers. July, 2010


Friday, August 13, 2010

Look Up to Health

The other day I did a tour of duty picking up my grandchildren after school. They are in the classes of 2021 and 2023, so are truly in formative years. The name of their school is Liberty Elementary. I wonder what values and attitudes might be formed by each day occupying a building with such a lofty theme? Some schools make students wear uniforms, with the belief that the cloths will tweak their psyches to believe “I am….SOMEBODY,” and behave in a more pro-social way. The state of New Hampshire has the official slogan “Live Free or Die.” It is a compelling precept stamped on the state’s license plates at the state prison machine shop. Yes it is. Nevertheless, words and transcendent ideas can transform how we live life.

It seems to me our society doesn’t inspire kids to flourish with all the things good health can empower. We don’t present excellence in health as something worthy of an aspiration. Many people, and maybe also youth, are inspired by the Olympics, but that only comes around for two weeks every two years, and in most years is tarnished by performance enhancing drugs. Professional sports could inspire kids, but the positive values that could be embodied by the pros are often overshadowed by million dollar contracts and “Get your chili dogs here!” There is really no personal inspiration coming from the medical care system. Somehow treatment of disease, even when it is a truly stunning feat of science and technique, doesn't translate into "How much better my life could have been if I had really taken advantage of great health promotion opportunities!"

For the last sixty plus years, behavioral scientists have painstakingly teased out factors (called “constructs”) that enhance the likelihood of someone making a change in their health habits. For example, people with social support for change are more likely to do so. When people think they gain more than they give up, they will more often make a pro-health change. People confidant that they can make a change are more likely to move in that direction. There are many more such constructs based on research evidence. In all the theory building that’s been done, inspiration has never been recognized as being important as a motivator or sustainer of health promoting change. However, there are connections. Things that inspire us resonate with our values, which have been seen for years as underlying factors molding our health lifestyles. Atmospheres that inspire healthy living are reinforcing in a vicarious way, and this is also soundly anchored in theory.

What if we were to name schools in ways that would provide inspiration and a higher health calling? For example, what about a school called “Lean Elementary School.” How about “Movement Elementary School?” Ok, that one needs work. Another idea might be "Green Elementary School." Neighborhoods troubled with violence could rename the school "Tranquility Elementary School." Obviously, inspiring names are not the final solution to changing America’s despicable health lifestyles, but they set a tone and lift kids' perspectives to something better.

It has been said that people perish without a vision. Perish can mean many things. However, names and words matter.

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