A week ago, one of the UK's most senior physicians (Prof Steve Field, head of the Royal College of General Practitioners) had a provocative piece published in the Observer about the need for Brits to take personal responsibility for their own individual health.
"The truth is that too many of us neglect our health, and this is leading to increasing levels of illness and early death"
Few of us can disagree with this (although a longer term view might find a comparison with Victorian Britain's health illuninating).
Where the good Doctor stirred things up is by criticising the fact that most of don't like to be told our lifestyle is unhealthy.
"Too many people do not face up to the hard facts, as they perceive them to be an attack aimed, in particular, at the poorer members of society. But it is impossible to argue on medical or ethical grounds that such behaviour is acceptable."
At the time, I found myself pondering (from the safe distance of Brittany) how little understanding of behaviour change and how such things as obesity and smoking (and their healthier corollories) spresd such a senior medical professional seemed to have. Telling people what they ought to do, even giving them the facts is unlikely to change much – I knew the facts of smoking and its likely damage to my health but still persisted for years.
A week on, the Observer has published a huge correspondence in response to the piece – largely critical of Field's opinions, it should be noted.
Much of it is considered and helpful but almost all of it misses the big point about this kind of thing: far from being "reckless" or "immoral" or "irrational" behaviour by independent individuals, over-eating, smoking and alchohol abuse tend to be things that spread through social means, as for example, Christakis and Fowler point out (in my fave book of last year).
We do these kinds of things because those around us are doing them, not because we are – any of us – acting independently. We are social not reckless.
Until the medical profession and their advisors get their heads around the importance of the Social, nothing much is going to change in terms of the population's health.
But, dear Minister of Health, leaving us to our own devices isn't going to help either…