In the Victoria (BC) Times Colonist there was an article, that I agree with. I know, the bottom line for me, why I ride, is because it's fun. Everything else is second fiddle.
November 27, 2004
I sat down with the legislative health committee's new report and tried to analyse one aspect of my own behaviour in light of all the expert thinking in the document.
Most days, I ride my bike to work. It's environmentally friendly, it's undeniably healthy and it's economical.
But I couldn't care less about that stuff. I cycle because it's fun. No other reason.
There's no conscious decision on my part to save the Victoria airshed a few pounds of carbon monoxide, or save myself a few bucks in gas. It crosses my mind that it's healthy, but I have enough other shameful bad health habits that you couldn't say the health benefits drive my decision-making.
It's simply an enjoyable practice I got into years ago that turned into my standard method of commuting.
When the topic comes up in casual conversation and I am revealed to be a cyclist, I occasionally wax on about the savings to be had and the ease with which you can introduce a 50-minute workout into your daily life.
But I've noticed that mostly when you get into the topic, people's eyes tend to glaze over. I doubt I've ever convinced a single person to regularly ride their bike to work.
And that's one small aspect of the giant problem the committee is trying to grapple with. How do you convince people to adopt healthy lifestyles without expensive nagging campaigns that just turn into background noise?
People sometimes point to a generation of anti-smoking messages as evidence that such campaigns work. But it's not so much the blindingly obvious message that smoking is bad for you that cut the rate of tobacco use down from half to about 16 per cent.
The steady, incremental shift toward turning it into a ridiculously expensive social crime had at least as much to do with that drop.
Discussing public health campaigns of the past 30 years, the committee noted: "The initial thought was that if only people had the right information, the right lecturing tone, or the right scare tactic then they would see the light, change their ways and adopt good habits.
"What has become obvious, after repeated attempts to change individual behaviours, is that despite all the knowledge in the world, individuals' behaviours don't change."
Health decisions are like most other personal choices, the committee found. They are influenced by people's environment, their histories, genetic endowments, personal skills, education and income levels, their sense of control over their lives and "the ease with which a healthy choice is made possible."
So, I don't cycle to work because there's no provincial sales tax on bicycles, or even because provincial and local governments built the Galloping Goose. It's some random combination of all the factors listed above.
Which makes it very difficult for any government trying to cope with the terrible trend lines now firmly established in the B.C. population regarding diet, inactivity, obesity and diabetes. In fact, the committee found no proof anywhere of a successful strategy to reduce obesity and promote healthy eating and active lives on a population-wide level.
"Telling people how and why they need to change does not work. Healthy change comes from a complex, long-term and multi-layered process that enables people to exert control over the decisions that influence their health."
And any time you read "complex, long-term and multi-layered" in a recommendation, it always adds up to another adjective -- "expensive."
The MLAs recommend hiking funding for public health initiatives from three per cent to six per cent over time. That would mean adding another $375 million a year to the health budget, just for preventive measures.
And it would all have to be new money, rather than funds re-allocated from the acute care "sickness system," because diverting funds "could mean that someone might die today in order to save the lives of hundreds in the future." That sort of dilemma stops the prevention investment argument in its tracks.
So the idea is grab as much of the surplus as they can and demonstrate that any increase in preventive spending doesn't come at the expense of the acute care system.
The report is perfectly timed. There is a new federal provincial deal that guarantees $5.4 billion for B.C. over the next 10 years. And every time Finance Minister Gary Collins turns around, he discovers another unexpected revenue bonanza.
The committee said there's an argument to be made that a portion of all new funds and all future budget surpluses should be devoted to catching up on prevention "investments."
It's not finding money that's difficult at this point. It's spending it.
How to invest in the right combination of background factors to convince someone else to cycle to work is the big mystery.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2004