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PEOPLE


I began to understand that medicine wasn’t really about disease – it was about the science of creating health


QUANTITATIVE DATA One-off anecdotal examples are all very well, but how about a widescale test? “One of the most interesting projects I’ve ever been involved in was at Saddleback Church in southern California,” says Hyman. Indeed, this is an initiative about which he spoke in depth at TEDMED, the medical thought leader convention: “I had for a long time been so focused on biology, on system-based medicine, that I hadn’t really acknowledged one key fact: that actually lifestyle disease is often not a problem of biology but a problem of your social network. You’re more likely to be obese if a friend of a friend of a friend is obese than if your parents are. “I started to think that, if social networks could promote unhealthy lifestyles, perhaps they could also be used to promote healthy lifestyles – the idea that peer support could be used to control lifestyle disease. “At this point, I was approached by the pastor of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, who had realised there was a health issue among his congregation – a congregation that numbered 30,000 people split across 5,000 small groups, 5,000 mini-churches. Together we put together a healthy living curriculum, The Daniel Plan, and set about testing whether community support could be more effective than conventional medicine in reversing and treating disease and in creating health.


“In the first week, 15,000 people signed up to the free programme, and over the space of last year they lost a combined 250,000lbs in bodyweight. Participants fed


56 LEISURE HANDBOOK 2014


back that they were using less medication, spending less time in hospital, coming off their diabetes meds. Disease went away as a side-effect of creating health. “As part of the programme, over 1,000 people stepped forward to become health champions, helping others to change their diets and lead a healthier lifestyle. And those who did the plan together lost twice as much weight as those who did it alone. We used biology and system-based medicine in the design of the programme itself, but we got behaviour to change by using the community – the power of positive peer pressure and social networks.” He continues: “When confronted with the issue of what I call ‘diabesity’ – the global epidemic of diabetes, obesity and lifestyle disease, which is set to cost US$47trn over 40 years and kill 50 million people a year by the end of the decade – people are overwhelmed. But actually it’s a simple problem with a simple solution. A community isn’t just a vehicle through which to educate people – community is actually the cure. It’s part of medicine. “We need to teach people how to


self-care and care for each other. It’s about democratising and decentralising healthcare, whereby your community rather than your local doctors’ surgery becomes the best place to make yourself healthy. “I believe there are millions of health champions out there waiting to be asked to help people take back their health. Our aim is to scale up the Daniel Plan to reach a billion, cutting health costs in the process.” Although much of the power lies in the


hands of the individual, and groups of individuals acting as a community, Hyman acknowledges there are issues that have to be addressed at a higher social level. In one of his websites – the fascinating Take Back Our Health (www. takebackourhealth.org) – Hyman looks at the challenges to health that come from the fabric of society, from governmental policy and health insurance systems to urban design and the food supply chain. “In terms of food supply, for example, the US government recommends Americans eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day – yet only 3 per cent of our agricultural lands are devoted to growing fruit and veg. If everybody in America were to follow those guidelines, there wouldn’t be enough fruit and veg to go around.


LOBBYING CHALLENGES “Then there are other challenges, such as the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to be viewed as individuals, allowing for unrestricted funding of political candidates. That’s taken a situation that was already bad in terms of lobbyists and vested interests and made it worse – made it disastrous. It’s taken away the capacity of government to do anything. “Ultimately change needs to be brought


in across the board, with comprehensive national targets on multiple levels. We need to change policies and subsidies. We have to encourage food companies to change the conversation and increase access to healthy food. We need to review the rules on food marketing to children, as


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