The Elusive Culture of Health

Americans’ girth is growing at an alarming rate. Many are too sedentary, too stressed, suffering from insomnia, making bad food choices. The drumbeat of “We need a culture of health versus a sickness culture” is a refrain that we now often hear and that I have espoused. Yet we advance this form of health and wellness promotion in the same way that we attempt to drive, sell, and be authoritative — in an almost combative fashion that is the zeitgeist of 21st century America. We also throw in healthy — or perhaps not — doses of carrots and sticks in our zeal to fix the great unwashed.

In contrast, looking at a society that has better health statistics than the U.S.A. on most measures, and spends far less, I note that the Japanese display a “culture of contentment.” A Japanese man who drove me from a hotel to the airport in Minneapolis got me thinking about this culture difference with his genuine pleasantness and “comfort in his own skin.” On a much broader scale, I was struck by the incredible courage, resolve, and even serenity of the Japanese people in the face of the horrific consequences of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the nation in March.

Could “culture of contentment” be part of population health improvement?

Food for thought!