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Don’t eat sugary food. Don’t eat fatty food. Don’t be lazy. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t use the car. The list of restrictions for leading a healthy life goes on. But is it actually helpful? Rather than a list of negatives, suitable and available alternatives would provide a better blueprint for what a healthy life might look like.
Firstly, healthier options must be financially attainable. Sweets should be taxed while vegetables should be subsidised. The UK ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks has led to manufacturers reducing the sugar content of their drinks while also raising a staggering £153.8m in the 7 month period since the tax was introduced. These funds could be put towards subsidising healthier foods, or towards healthy community initiatives.
Availability is also key. How have chips become the norm in school canteens but by the ubiquity of their supply? Schools and local councils should offer healthy food as standard in canteens and vending machines. Placing outdoor gym equipment in parks and playgrounds would be a positive step towards availability of healthier activities, alongside the protection of parks more generally. Even the availability of public transport is useful in encouraging an additional 12-15 minutes of physical activity each day.
Let’s make it a game
Gamification is a really good way to encourage behavioural change in a way that is positive and gratifying. Rather than the imposition of top-down rules, gamified techniques for weight loss offer a more dynamic approach that makes the most of technology and social influence via: self-monitoring, goal settling, feedback and social support.
Where the healthy option is framed as missing out on something, with no positive alternative offered, it may not be regarded as a genuine option. Healthy options should be more attainable, widely available, and presented in an appealing format.