Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No smoking day - Wednesday 13th March

It's that time of year when although the clocks haven't yet sprung forward for spring and summer, it is getting appreciably lighter by the day, and the almost oppressive darkness of winter is thankfully behind us for another year.

So what better time to think about various health and wellbeing matters such as getting more exercise, eating the right healthy foods and aiming to get to the right weight - and also giving up smoking (for those among us who smoke)?

Today is No Smoking Day, and given that it falls on a working day, we thought we'd look today at how smoking has changed during the working day - as well as health in general - since the first no smoking day 30 years ago.

Back in the olden days, people had far more opportunities to smoke during the average 24 hour period. It didn't matter if you were on a bus or train, in a cafe or restaurant or at work - there would have been someplace to smoke, and in a lot of cases it didn't even have to be a smoking area as many places allowed smoking no matter where you were sitting.

Attitudes to health (and mental health) have changed greatly over the years and the workplace has seen many changes too - with continued focus on health and safety legislation as well as far greater use of workplace wellbeing policies and health insurance for business from corporate to small and medium business types - often offered as a staff benefit.

It's interesting just how far we've come over the past three decades - and of course the number of smokers is down from what it was all that time ago. Although it is difficult to predict how that one is going to change over time - we're now down to only a fifth of the population smoking, but it would be likely that among them are the most addicted, the least likely to give up - so decline rates may slow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The health of the nation

There are so many health stories in the media that it would simply be impossible to keep up with them on a a daily basis. Even using news aggregators and bookmarking all your favourite newspaper sites' health news pages, there's a mountain of health stories being published every single day.

One upshot of this is that many of us need to quickly select the stories that interest us and disregard the other 3 or 4 thousand articles available that day.

Sometimes this is actually easier than it seems - for instance there may be 150 articles about a new medical breakthrough, but little would be gained from reading every story on it. Usually, in fact, you can get the gist from scanning one broadsheet article, or a more detailed insight by reading and absorbing the same article in full.

But for the less health-centred reader - the general reader - what happens is that the headlines quite naturally grab the attention, and as such give the impression that things are a certain way. For instance, often you'd be forgiven for thinking that the UK isn't in a great state, healthwise - what with all the column inches on obesity and other health challenges.

It is of course true that the UK like many western nations has its problems with the prevalence of obesity. But on the whole it should also be remembered (and celebrated) that we've come a long way over the years in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, and so on.

My suggestion would be that we have a yearly health of the nation survey based around 15 - 20 key measurement points, so that we get a more 360 degree view of the nation's health rather than being overly focussed on the negatives.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mental health update: stress survey

There were quite a lot of news stories about stress levels in the UK last year. And one of the most significant ones was the news that hospital admissions for stress related ilnesses had risen sharply year on year - by 7%.

One of the possible reasons for this that has been suggested in the recession. This could well be the case for such a noticeable rise, but on the other hand it's possible that as we become more open about mental health, people generally will be more willing to seek a diagnosis if they feel affected by stress.

Companies these days are also embracing mental health promotion more and more, as part of their workplace wellbeing programmes - alongside offering things like EAPs and business health care insurance. It's a very different world from the times when mental health at work simply wasn't a matter that was ever discussed.

But while so much good work is being done in terms of changing attitudes and drawing up wellbeing policies for the workplace, are we seeing the benefits yet in terms of stress levels?

This week yet another survey was published on the subject of stress, and the results are interesting. This one was  a little bit different in that the volunteers for the study actually had their body temperature recorded at different pints throughout the week. Apparently when you're stressed, your temperature increases a bit. Interestingly, Wednesday was found to be the least stressful day of the week, while Friday scored quite highly - this is believed to be down to the fact that on Fridays many of us have to get the decks cleared before the two day weekend break.

A spokesman for the survey's author said that many people in the UK are working under "dangerous" levels of stress and highlighted the stress reduction value of ensuring employees getting a full lunch break and maybe even doing exercises in the office.