Changing lifestyles - 23 Feb 2009By Bridget Farham
There are three items in this morning's newsletter that point to the idea that we can have control over our health. A recent report from the UK suggests that lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking too much, too little exercise and poor eating habits markedly increase your risk of stroke, the changing types of breast cancer and the idea that abused children experience brain changes that result in difficulties handling stress in later life.
The first item shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who keeps up with the medical literature. There are increasing bodies of evidence that suggest that a lifestyle of excess (of the wrong things) is seriously detrimental to overall health - stroke is just the latest of a string of illnesses to be linked to an unhealthy lifestyle.
But, the changing pattern of breast cancer is less intuitive. Again, the change is probably due to lifestyle - delaying childbearing, obesity (particularly after menopause) and possibly the use of hormone replacement therapy. This is a population change on a huge scale. It would be interesting to compare types of breast cancer among women with a Western lifestyle with those in women with a less Westernised lifestyle, although this would be difficult with poor health record keeping in most developing world countries.
The third item is more disturbing - the idea that child abuse can permanently alter the brain. Child abuse is unfortunately not confined to the poorer socio-economic portions of society and is often hidden, even by those who experience it. In South Africa, child abuse is quite frighteningly common. Ours is an already highly stressed society. If these children are to grow up even less able to deal with stress, this can only have serious long-term consequences for both the individuals concerned and the country as a whole.