Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Personal Health and the Public Interest

A story ran on the CBC this morning about a high school in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick which has begun to issue medical "report cards" to students in the 10th grade. The report cards spell out the student's rankings against various indicators of physical health:  blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart rate, blood sugar levels and body mass index (BMI). As usual, reactions are mixed.

I, personally, think the reports are a good idea, with a few caveats. First of all, I feel they should be issued by medical professionals... a retained Practical Nurse, for example. Second of all, the reports only work if they are  (a) plainly readable by 10th graders and their parents, and (b) if students are taught what the various indicators mean and why they are important to physical health. Perhaps more important, many fitness experts consider BMI to be an outdated indicator, and that a more important indicator would be to use Muscle Mass % vs. Fat Mass % as an indicator of corporal fitness.

That being said, the program, including the nurse, cost the high school $7000, which is a pittiance if it actually works. In general, the reports seem well-received by students, whereas the adult commentators on the CBC website seem more opposed. If it's not already clear, I fall into the category of being in-favour. Hell, I wish it was done for me in that grade!

What's all this have to do with the public interest? Frankly, it's all about the money, ignoring the obvious personal interest in maintaining good health. We have government-funded health care in this country. That means that you, I, and anyone else above the minimum income tax bracket are paying for the majority of health problems developed by the rest of the populations (admittedly including ourselves). Obesity, especially if coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to any of a number of cardiovascular diseases, and the longer those conditions persists, the more damage is done to a person's health. I think we've just about exhausted what can be achieved by health education alone, these days (and don't get me started on my country's deficient Canada Food Guide!), and it's time to move on to better things. Physical fitness should be a public service, like the parks service. Actually, let's start with them. Let's expand the services of the National and Provincial Park Services. Let's bring in low-cost bike rental, and guided hiking tours - supervised rock-climbing events. Let's subsidise municipal fitness centres like our own Canada Games Aquatic Centre. Why not go big: we have tax rebates for public transporation. Let's make gym memberships refundable too.

Source: CBC.ca, Medical Report Cards go to 10th Graders, retrieved January 10, 2012

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