The church needs to address physical health
Review by Steve Fouch, CMF Head of Nursing
The state of the nation's health is not good. Starting with a WHO report that predicted a global cancer epidemic (1), we then learnt that the number of people living in the UK with type 2 diabetes has soared, so that one in 17 of us (2) are now living with the condition.
The cause is being laid at the door of two paradoxical problems of modern living. Medical advances mean we can now cure many (if not most) the infectious diseases so we are no longer dying young in large numbers. Our technology driven, sedentary work and leisure pursuits along with the availability of cheap (but micronutrient poor) calories mean we are instead succumbing to diseases of old age and lifestyle.
The knee jerk response is to bring in something like the recent ban on smoking in cars when children are present. (3) At the same time the Government has backed away from per-unit alcohol pricing – despite the mounting evidence (4) from around the world that this might actually work in reducing problem drinking and other health problems (5).
But while some nudge policies may work in helping people not to make harmful choices, the deeper malaise will be harder to overcome. We simply do not want to do what we need to stay healthy, as it so often involves giving up what we like (eg fatty, sugary processed foods, alcohol, tobacco) and doing what we don't like or find hard to do (exercising, limiting our calorie intake). This is made all the more difficult when the food, tobacco, alcohol and advertising industries are investing lots of money encouraging us to do the exact opposite. Individual human sinfulness and corporate sin/evil conspire against us. It is a public health nightmare that the apostle Paul would so readily have understood! (6)
Maybe this is a challenge for the churches, who have risen to address so many of the other issues that crush human life – from HIV to care of the dying. We run food banks, we run schools, and in many parts of the world we still run hospitals. We have always had something to say about making good choices in our pastoral work and outreach. Maybe it's time for some creative thinking about lifestyle changes in diet and exercise as part of our wider pastoral ministry? But more, this is also an issue of justice and overcoming the principalities and powers – so maybe we should also be challenging the hold of commercial interests over public health? Either way, physical health should be a growing concern of the local and national church.