area of focus:
GENERAL HEALTH & NUTRITION
What you should know about healthy eating and staying well.
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General Health and Nutrition
The WHO describes health as, ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’  There are multiple components that make up the body in its physical form, but the body is more than fleshy parts. Our bodies are made up of cells, hormones, various systems, we think and we feel. Health therefore covers a wide range of elements as stated above. Below is an overview of some general information about health that you might find helpful.
Diet and Nutrition
There is a close link between lifestyle choices and some illness or conditions. The World Health Organisations states that,
‘One of the most important ways of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) [See definition of NCDs here] is to control unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to their development. These include reducing the use of tobacco and the harmful use of alcohol, maintaining an active lifestyle and developing a healthy diet.’
A healthy diet can protect against many non-communicable diseases as well as malnutrition. Some people assume that malnutrition only occurs in third world countries but data reveals that in the U.K we spend approximately ‘£19 billion per year alone in England’ on issues relating to malnutrition.
According to the British Diatetic Association some of the results of malnutrition can be:
- increased risk of illness and infection
- slower wound healing
- increased risk of falls
- low mood
- reduced energy levels
- reduced muscle strength
- reduced quality of life
- reduced independence and ability to carry out daily activities 
Although at face value the solution to this problem may seem simple—‘just eat well’, there are more complex issues that make achieving health through nutrition challenging for some families. According to the King’s fund, if people were to follow NHS’ guidance on health, some families would need to spend 42% of their household income on food. In addition to this, some areas have poor transport routes to shops or stores that provide an array of healthy foods. Further to this there may be barriers to achieving healthy eating goals such as education about food and nutrition, costs associated with buying fresh food versus other foods, stress can be a barrier to eating healthy- it makes us crave sugary, fried and salty foods which can lead to food addiction. Time limitations– for some families the preparation time associated with cooking food and the demand on their time from work, family and potentially volunteer work might make it difficult to find the time needed to prepare and cook healthy foods. Marketing affects our relationship to and with food. The choices we make around food consumption is heavily influenced by marketing. More needs to be done in ensuring that foods that promote health are being advertised to encourage a shift in attitudes and habits. Supermarkets should also be encouraged to think about the layout of where certain food are placed and therefore increasing the visibility of foods that can harm one’s health.
In terms of physical activity, according to the WHO a quarter of people globally are simply not active enough. Physical activity is an important element of reducing NCDs. It can help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Exercise as part of a wider health programme can also be utilised to reverse some conditions. It is also an important factor in positive feelings, helping to promote endorphins in the body which can improve mental health/well-being. Just like healthy eating, there are some barrier to achieving increasing physical activity. As a society we have a more sedentary way of living and working, many people don’t have access to green spaces including gardens and parks. Where some people can exercise at home or in their gardens, others may live in small living spaces, flats or towers blocks without safe green spaces; for some people disability- chronic pain and fatigue make physical activity difficult. One has to recognise the barriers in their own circumstances and prioritise the best way to achieve their health needs. For some people, the first step is speaking to their GP, for others it might be seeking mental health support, or other therapies, or it could be a combination of a few of these. Having a health plan can be really helpful to meet your health goals. (We’ll be developing a resource soon).
The WHO recommends that Children and adolescents between the ages of 5-17years
- Should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
- Physical activity of amounts greater than 60 minutes daily will provide additional health benefits.
- Should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.
Further to this, the WHO recommends that adults aged 18–64 years
- Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
And for adults aged 65 years and above, it is recommended that they:
- Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- For additional health benefits, they should increase moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
- Those with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups, 2 or more days a week.
Health and well-being should be everyone’s business. School and employers should place an emphasis on staff wellbeing ensuring that employee have access to fresh food options at work during breaks. Staff should have regular breaks (as appropriate) and be able to access spaces for fresh air and physical activity- particularly for those in sedentary roles. They should avoid practices that encourage burnout and chronic stress. They should keep in mind the mental well-being of employees and ensure that there is a civility values in place. It can be challenging to get appointments outside of work hours and therefore encourage employees to prioritise their health needs.
In schools health literacy should be taught in a holistic way, it should take into account the needs of students physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. In classes such as science and PSHE/sex education students should be educated on the value of breastfeeding during the infant years, and ensure there are extra-cirricula opportunities to develop health, fitness and overall well-being.
If you are someone concerned about the way in which your work or school life is having an effect on your health, it’s important to speak to someone. You can speak to a member of management who you trust, you can speak to your union, you can seek advice from a professional body outside of your employers and also ensure you speak with your doctor.
Lastly, remember that you have a right to health. The WHO states,
The right to health is one of a set of internationally agreed human rights standards, and is inseparable or ‘indivisible’ from these other rights. This means achieving the right to health is both central to, and dependent upon, the realisation of other human rights, to food, housing, work, education, information, and participation.
One of the most important things to remember is that ***
Please seek help if you need support.
‘What is the WHO definition of health?’, World Health Organisation
‘Non-communicable Disease’, World Health Organisation
‘Malnutrition’, British Diatetic Association
‘Health Inequalities’, The King’s Fund
‘Physical activity’, World Health Organisation
‘Physical activity’, World Health Organisation
‘Human rights and health’, World Health Organisation
 WHO, What is the WHO definition of health https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/frequently-asked-questions
 WHO, Non-communicable disease https://www.who.int/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases#tab=tab_1
 BDA, Malnutrition
 The King’s Fund, Health Inequalities, https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/what-are-health-inequalities
 WHO, ‘Physical activity’ https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
 WHO, Human rights and Health https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-rights-and-health
Natasha Smith is a Doula, Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and Holistic Therapist; she has a background in Nutritional Therapy and Mizan. She also has a love for literature and enjoys researching in her own time. She runs various workshops on health and well-being, peer support and doulaing, as well as anti-racism and cultural safety. She works part-time as a Service User representative on the Maternity Transformation Programme, on the Choice and Personalisation workstream. Lastly but not least, Natasha is founder of the Women’s Health and Maternal Well-being Initiative.