• Life Sciences & Health
  • Innovate

Sometimes legislation must give health a helping hand

The healthcare industry is under pressure. Too expensive, too many patients, too few healthcare professionals. To avoid a bigger crisis, we can only turn on one important switch: prevention. In other words, how do we ensure that people become and stay healthier? A simple question with no easy answer. NOM seeks those answers on November 14 during the Prevention in Healthcare Roundtable. Guests with different perspectives will discuss solutions to drive the much-needed transition.

We all know that it would be better to stop smoking, to eat less fat and sugar, to exercise more. And yet we continue to live in our unhealthy pattern. How is that possible? You shouldn't overestimate how well people know what is healthy and unhealthy'', says Daniëlle Bekkering.

The former speed skater has been director of Healthy Ageing Network North Netherlands (HANNN) for six months. ,,Going for a walk every evening is good for your sleep, for your sense of fitness. Then you can handle more. Not everyone knows that, so we have to explain that. And we do. In our Healthy Living Room we do lifestyle checks. If people then say: I slept badly, we ask further. What does your evening look like? Often people themselves don't realize what they can easily change.''

Good examples

Good examples are important when it comes to reaching an audience that is not easily persuaded. Danielle Bekkering: ,,Policy makers, doctors, researchers, they can explain what is healthy and what is not. But if your neighbor tells you that he feels much better now that he exercises more, that makes more of an impression. We need ambassadors like that.''

Much more needs to be done to improve the health of the Dutch. Banning things is usually not the best way. Then people get into resistance and that doesn't help their motivation to change. Seducing is better, helping step by step, choosing the right moment. Someone who has just gotten very sick from a lifestyle-related condition is more susceptible to tips to change. If something happens to a friend, brother, sister or child, the same applies.


Even then, it is not nearly enough. If we really want to make strides, it will have to be through policy, says Jochen Mierau. He is Professor of Economics of Public Health and director of Lifelines. ,,Some things you just have to enforce. Examples? We know that more greenery in neighborhoods is good for the health of residents. Then you have to regulate that. The more snack bars in a neighborhood, the worse the health of the residents. So you can do something about that. It's a choice. Closing community centers is bad for people's health. We all know this, yet it's not being looked at.''

Mierau advocates a drastic turnaround in the way we look at health and the economy. The profit models are flawed. At the moment we earn money from curing diseases and making people sick. That's what manufacturers of ultra-processed food do, for example. I say: sweep those two models aside and put a social profit model in their place. Then you can weigh up the true costs and benefits for society. Now society pays the costs of the damage caused by unhealthy food, among other things. That is actually weird. That's why a sugar tax is a good idea. Then you pay for the real costs of a product.''

Health as a revenue model

In saying this, Mierau is not saying that the business community should then just bleed. On the contrary. Companies have every interest in keeping their employees healthy, fit and productive. My point is that we need to start from health as a revenue model, rather than illness.

That idea can be carried much further into society. Danielle Bekkering: ,,We know that an unhealthy lifestyle is often a consequence of, or combined with many other problems. Addiction, loneliness, poverty, debt and much more. You can't tackle one and leave the other. Then you won't get there.''

As far as Mierau is concerned, we should use this knowledge for a radical change. ,,We see it black and white in Lifelines, that an unhealthy lifestyle is the result of various causes and that it leads to large social costs. We as a society should say: we think health is important and are going to help people live healthier lives. That means, for example, canceling debts. That seems expensive now, but ultimately yields much more. Including economic gain. People stay healthier, can work, need less help. It is a calculation that is done too infrequently. Or even better: it is a choice.''

Round Table

We cordially invite you to join the discussion with us on Tuesday, November 14, starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Leefstijlstraat in Emmen. You can sign up until November 12.