Language, both verbal and non verbal is the way we communicate. True communication is when the person on the receiving end has the same understanding of what has been said as the person speaking.

Whilst this sounds obvious, much communication breakdown and misunderstanding comes from people having different interpretations of the same words. To quote the second verse of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven:

“There’s a sign on the wall

But she wants to be sure

Cause you know sometimes words have

Two meanings”

 I always tell medical students to be sure they understand what a patient is telling them. Terms like “for a while” or “lately” mean different things to different people. With a bit of probing two people can fairly easily get on the same page.

There is a problem, which is harder to solve, and that is the problem of words having no meaning. Governments specialize in this. Health departments and bureaucrats are serial offenders. This past week has seen two front-page stories related to health.

On Tuesday came health department thought bubbles on how they are going to fix the problems of chronic disease. All the worn out lines about increasing tax on alcohol, requirements for “public places” like hospitals to offer healthy food (why don’t they do that anyway?) subsidized public transport (how will that help fitness?) and the pick of the bunch; to pressure food outlets to have smaller portions.

The response to the thought bubbles was predictable with one commentator calling for a “whole of government” rather than a health department approach!

Meaningless words!

Attempts at changing the taxation on alcoholic drinks have been done previously leading to changes in the type of drink consumed but with minimal impact on overall consumption. Meanwhile in the real world, per capita consumption of alcohol is in long-term decline as are smoking rates.

The stupidity of government never ceases to amaze. Lets us assume that fast food outlets (where only 17% of “junk food” is consumed anyway) had smaller portions. People would buy the bigger option or two of the smaller!

There was one useful idea and that was to have a minimum of two hours of school sport each week. Yet that does not require any funding and is within the capacity of government to do so now, if they wanted to. Part of the reason school sports has declined is because governments have allowed any child who trips over to sue the school. Once again governments can solve this if they wanted to.

Let me be blunt. No amount of government (whole or otherwise) programs will get people who do not want to exercise to do so. Nor will it get people to drive past, rather than drive through the fast food outlet unless they want to.

Changes in health can only and will only come from the choices made by individuals. The role of governments is to get out of peoples way and make it easier to be healthy rather than place barriers in their path. Forcing trainers to pay to run fitness classes in parks is a classic example of governments making it harder for people to be healthy.

Children, bored with the sterility of playgrounds, which are designed to meet “government requirements”, rather than children’s needs don’t play in them. Hence they are less physically active. Once more this is due to governments getting in the way.

On Thursday came the news that a government Physical activity task-force is to be closed down. The usual lovers of all programs run by government were outraged. An interesting question is how many people are fitter as a result of the meetings held by the task-force. My guess is zero!

We all know the importance of exercise including those who choose not to.  Lack of awareness is not the problem. It is lack of motivation and a differing set of priorities regarding how to spend time. And of course government barriers too ,as we saw above. Task-forces having meetings does not change this.

But maybe meaningless words are part of the problem. Perhaps nobody knew what the task-force was doing – not even the Minister in charge who was quoted in The West Australian thus:

“The PATF has played an important role in addressing declining levels of physical activity across WA through the broader adoption of a whole of government, whole of community approach to the extent that the physical activity agenda can now be progressed by individual agencies who will continue to work collaboratively”

If anyone understands this, please put your explanation in the comments box, as I have no idea!

Our health is a consequence of our actions. Meaningless words do not play a role!