The Worried Well: Is Health Promotion to Blame?

The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, March 2005 | Go to article overview

The Worried Well: Is Health Promotion to Blame?


The Society took part in a recent debate about the national 'obsession' with health at an Institute of Ideas (IoI) event in London in February.

'Health: An Unhealthy Obsession' was held to discuss the ever-increasing presence of health messages in everyday life, from both government and voluntary organisations. The Society was a sponsor of the event and sent representation to champion health promotion against a body of opinion which asserts that health promotion can often do 'more harm than good'.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, opened the conference with some critical remarks on contemporary health anxieties: "Why is it that we live in a world where illnesses of all kinds are on the increase? And why is it that it preys so much on our imaginations?" Illness, he said, is now perceived as the normal state of being. "If you do not attend to the project of being well, you will instantly revert to a state of illness."

The modern public health movement, Furedi believes, often infringes individual liberties and spreads unwarranted anxieties among people, many of whom may never develop any serious illnesses.

In his contribution from the platform, Alastair McCapra, The Society's Head of Policy and Communications, reminded delegates that there were many powers at work in society much more powerful than health promoters, and that if people were overly-concerned about relatively small risks to their health this probably had little to do with the efforts of the health promotion movement. …

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