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All you need is health

By Ariel Gallo - posted Tuesday, 30 August 2016


There was a period when to be true to my profession, I was extremely careful to ensure no word or idea was lost in translation. At times, instead of translator I was called a linguist when I had to examine long lists of words to be used as potential brand names for pharmaceutical products. I made sure I had never seen or heard them, and reported if those words had inappropriate connotations. Health is a word that has been lost in translation, or what is even worse, has become a misnomer, or deceptively used term. The Federal Health Minister said during an appearance in the National Press Club of Australia on October 28th 2015: "Mental health is now recognised as a chronic disease in Australia with a significant burden on patients and the health system."As expected, no one batted an eyelid.

If I were short-changed in any business deal I would naturally feel quite distressed, but when it comes to medicine I have no option but to accept that it is taken as a synonym of health. The widespread use of "health" as a substitute for "medicine" or "medical" is attractive from a marketing perspective, but deceitful for those who seek health advice.

"Health care", has been the most popular pair of words for the promotion of medicine since time immemorial. The result of a Google search health care definition is unambiguous: "The organized provision of medical care to individuals or a community." The appropriate words to be applied are "medical care", a kind of treatment provided by professionals who have not been trained to attain health, but to treat disease symptoms. It is paradoxical that one can get professional medical services almost everywhere on earth, but a health doctor is still a fictional character in the 21st century. There is no one who has ever had access to scientifically unified knowledge about health, acquired through university studies. This would be the qualification needed to help individuals of any age achieve a true state of wellbeing. It has taken many years of trial and error for me to sort out the good and bad elements of different so-called "healthy" lifestyles, to get to a level where I can enjoy a stable state of health. I will avoid comments about the expressions "good health" and "bad health" that further add to muddying the waters.

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Health deserves specifically dedicated studies. It is as important as medicine and its development is feasible considering the availability of many recent health-oriented scientific studies. It is time to put forward some relevant questions and solutions that need urgent attention. According to 2014 statistics, health care is carried out by 33 million health care industry workers including 9.2 million physicians and 19.4 million nurses. Where does health stand within this landscape? Not as visible as it should be. I certainly do not blame those 33 million individuals, because I understand they have been trained in medical schools, faculties, or similar institutions. However, with respect to health their knowledge may be not better than that achieved by any health aware person who has no academic qualifications.

BBC medical journalist and author Dr Michael Mosley from the UK has regularly visited Australia to promote his books. During the course of an interview he said:

"I was talking to a couple of Australian doctors the other evening. One of them said he had to look up the word 'carbohydrate' as he knew so little about it. During my years of training at medical school I was required to attend just one class on nutrition. My son is also at medical school and learning nothing on the topic. You learn some of the more exotic diseases and the deficiency diseases but what you don't ever learn is what carbs [sic] do, what fats do, what protein does, what to say to an overweight patient who comes in and asks, what can I do about this?"

Nutrition, by the way, is only one of the fundamental components of health, and doctors could be totally relieved from its study. A health doctor would be prepared to deal precisely with a large number of elements that comprise a healthy lifestyle. While medicine is a well-established science, health has not yet qualified for that title. Health science does not exist. Try a Wikipedia search for health science and you will find there is not one page with that title, but a redirection to a list of 123 links of topics related to diverse therapies. It is a landing page that shows a peculiar mixture of subjects covering conventional, alternative, spiritual, traditional, and folk medicine. Public health, for example, is supposed to be achieved by medical microbiology, clinical virology, clinical epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, and biomedical engineering -all of them branches of medicine.

Summarizing, a magical switch is activated to convince us the way to health relies on medical sciences. In other words, we are given the incongruous idea that health, not disease, is to be taken care of by those medical fields. The World Health Organization claims that even more millions of physicians are needed. This institution looks more like a medical, rather than health organization. The sad reality is that while the medical industry is a gravy train that feeds such a large amount of affiliates, the amount of sufferers of chronic diseases increases beyond the levels most countries' taxpayers can afford. As the medical profession brags about its role of increasing life expectancy, the quality of life during the added years is not necessarily productive or even enjoyable. The Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013 includes a candid and sobering piece of information:

"While most of the older population live independently, it has been estimated that 25–40% of those over 80 years of age could be considered frail. Malnutrition in older people is often associated with one or more illnesses such as chronic obstructive lung disease and heart failure, dementia, dysphagia, poor dentition, depression, social isolation, use of drugs, alcohol and other substance abuse, poverty, and despair. In Australia, 5–11% of people eligible for Home and Community Care services are malnourished. In acute care, 20–30% of people are admitted with malnutrition, the prevalence increasing with age and the number of health problems. Older people can develop sarcopenia, a form of muscle wasting, and some older people also experience sarcopenic obesity, where there is a combination of reduced muscle mass and/or strength and excess body fat. As such the guidelines in this document are not appropriate for frail elderly people or those with complex health conditions and an appropriate health professional should be consulted."

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The following statements are addressed to university leaders, philanthropists, investors, academic degree holders, professors, scientists, heads of state, and politicians in general:

  • Health science does not exist, but there are enough health-oriented studies for it to be structured. There is a sizeable amount of scientific work focusing on medical objectives, which contains elements suitable for health application.
  • Once health science is established, universities could run degree courses geared to the formation of health professionals with a level of instruction comparable to those of medicine. The schools of health should impart solid knowledge to be applied at both, individual and institutional levels.
  • Several subjects run by medical schools are correlated and could be used for health study as well. Others should be especially designed for individual and public health.
  • The duration of university and external training courses could be as long, or somewhat longer than courses offered in medical schools.
  • The excellence of achievement in a health career should be similar to that of medicine cooperating with, but independent from it.
  • Physicians could, and eventually should refer patients to health doctors, when they are identified as suffering from lifestyle-related disorders.
  • Health professionals would be limited to provide comprehensive healthy lifestyle personal advice and should not undertake the practice of any medical therapies, except dietary restriction, which does not involve the use of medications.

Innovation is a highly fashionable concept mentioned in business promotions, such as those for the pharmaceutical industry. It is time for private and public universities to introduce innovative courses to train the Health Doctor of the future. While the economic value of the product itself would initially appeal to teaching enterprises only, the human value of the services provided would be far beyond the huge amount of funds that could potentially be saved by all countries. This is where revolutionary investment would be welcome to create a new profession and help save the world.

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About the Author

Ariel Gallo is a former translator who has been dedicated to healthy lifestyles research and practice since 1984.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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