Solving the Wicked Problem of Your Personal Health

doctor and patient

Cosmetic surgery can still be met with skepticism or stir up controversy. People tend to disapprove of one-shot solutions to concerns of physical appearance and beauty. That shouldn’t stop you from availing of Botox specials from the right practitioner, however. Safety certifications are well-earned, and beauty is always subjective anyway.

The irony is that people are much more accepting of simple solutions for general health and fitness. They read about a new diet or way of exercising, along with studies suggesting its benefits, and they take those as gospel.

Most people need to be far more critical of any health information they come across. Health is an incredibly complex issue, and it will take a systems-based approach to solve poor health problems.

Multiple health determinants, high complexity

It’s no surprise that health is a topic of concern to everyone. Our life expectancy has risen dramatically over the decades, thanks to advances in medical science. In most parts of the developed world, this has been accompanied by similar increases in quality of living.

Poor health is a common limiting factor that threatens to impair our enjoyment of life. As we age without exercising or tending to proper nutrition, we put ourselves at increased risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. A long life that’s not accompanied by a good physical condition isn’t gratifying and can only lead to costly medical expenses.

Yet the more you brush up on the literature about health or read stories about people who’ve either succeeded or failed at improving, one fact stands out. Health has so many determinants.

Your level of health doesn’t just come down to what you eat or how physically active you are. Those factors are important. But genetics also plays a role, along with other things you can’t change, such as your education and family background. You also have to consider environmental and social influences.

Scientists recognize this complexity, of course. If you read the source publications of any study, they will commonly stop short of identifying a definitive cause-and-effect relationship.

It’s not because the researchers lack confidence in their studies. Rather, scientific rigor demands that you control all variables. That’s not feasible with a complex problem like health, so they can only link or associate effects with simple interventions. Naturally, once this information trickles down to online sources with less regard for science and more interest in going viral, they ignore such qualifications.

Wicked problems

medical-equipment

These characteristics of health are shared with many of the world’s biggest concerns. Climate change, gender equality, and poverty are similarly complex and involve multiple factors on various levels of human existence.

These complex issues are termed ‘wicked problems.’ They are unique, with no definitive formulation, and technically don’t stop once ‘solved.’ In fact, any potential solution is never correct in an absolute sense, only good or bad.

Every person’s health paints a unique picture of their life, including all intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Studies have shown to be associated with good outcomes for certain people may have no effect on you or even trigger an adverse reaction.

Consequently, pinning your hopes on a new diet or workout is ill-advised. Your mileage may vary, and if the results disappoint, you could easily be discouraged. We witness this phenomenon each year, as people make New Year’s resolutions to get into shape and lead healthier lives, only for that commitment to be derailed sooner than later.

Finding a systems-based approach

The thing people fail to grasp about health and wicked problems, in general, is that their solutions are never simple. Poor health doesn’t stay solved.

You don’t go on a diet to lose weight, then stop and declare your mission accomplished. Nor do you start running, lifting weights, or circuit training, and at some point feel that you’ve earned good health for life.

Solving health requires a multi-faceted, systems-based approach. And it’s a lifelong commitment because health problems could arise from anywhere as long as we live.

If you’re striving to overcome a health issue, you may get specific recommendations from a doctor, for instance. But those are just the minimum you’ll need to get better.

You need to think about the big picture and find creative solutions. Draw upon your social network and relationships for support. Look into what help employers and communities can offer. Try to align physical activities with the hobbies and interests of your friends and family.

Anyone who has managed to improve their health from poor to excellent can attest to the need to work on multiple aspects, try different tactics, and leverage various resources. Do these things, and in the long run, you can enjoy a similar outcome.

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