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Here’s an active sort of problem
IN MY first column of 2012 I made some tentative predictions for the coming year, all of which have come true.
This doesn’t exactly make me Nostradamus, since I foretold more austerity, embarrassing Olympics mishaps and weird weather – though I’m not sure I expected the Olympic embarrassment to start before the opening ceremony or the weird weather to be quite so bad.
You may have noticed I’ve avoided writing about the weather during the downpours. I just thought, what was there to say that we couldn’t tell by looking out of the window?
But now we’re promised a bit of summer weather, so with the Olympics starting on Friday and Bradley Wiggins and chums already delivering unprecedented sporting success in the Tour de France, it’s time to get out there and be active in the sunshine.
And we need to get active, for a report has revealed that a lazy lifestyle is a serious threat to our health. It says lack of exercise is killing as many people around the world as smoking (a figure of 5.3 million a year was mentioned) and a third of adults are not active enough.
The researchers called for new and imaginative ways to encourage people to get moving, but some commentators went a bit further and called for a campaign similar to that against cigarettes.
So how would we do that – ban sofas, or sitting down in public places? I came up with a couple of “stick and carrot” ideas. First, TVs would only be activated if their viewers were activated first, by running on a treadmill or lifting weights wired to the on/off switch. Second, alcohol would only be available in pubs, and you would have to physically pump each pint yourself, with a device which increased the effort needed for each drink you consumed.
That may sound rather silly, but there’s a serious purpose here; to suggest it’s a lot easier to stop a type of behaviour than to get people to do something.
Some will no doubt suggest putting more restrictions on cars and encouraging wannabe Bradleys onto their bikes is the answer. All I’ll say is I’d be more sympathetic if someone also came up with a way to make the pedestrian experience a bit more fun.
The fact remains that it’s very difficult to force people to change their lifestyles in this way, and I’m not sure it’s the right way forward. I’ve always been suspicious about attempts at social engineering, partly because I believe they often go wrong and cause more trouble than the original problem.
The smoking ban has, I must admit, been very successful in many respects. I have mixed feelings about this – not so much a head and heart split as a head, heart and lungs divide.
Parts of me feel it’s wrong and potentially dangerous to deprive people of even a self-destructive liberty. But since the ban my lungs have become so sensitive I can’t bear to walk down the street behind a smoker, never mind share a confined space with one. Fellow columnist Richard Catton recently asked what would be wrong if someone opened a pub specifically for smokers, so long as everyone understood what was going on within.
Again, part of me supports the idea on individual liberty grounds, but I also have misgivings. What if non-smokers felt pressured into entering a smoke-filled area because they desperately needed a job working at the bar, or their friends were having a party there or they needed to speak to someone who could only be found there? It’s not so simple when your habit can also harm others. On the other hand, it does look a bit like the smoking ban’s success is encouraging the social engineers to widen their horizons; maybe we really will hear suggestions that the inactive should be made to dance for their supper – all for their own good, of course.
Let us hope persuasion and education win the day.