The following article, written by Shelley Z. Reuter, Concordia University, originally appeared on The Conversation and was published here with permission:
"I really have to treat myself better."
Who doesn't think so at least in the past year? And maybe you've made some health resolutions for 2019 – to reduce junk food, continue daily training, start meditating or sleep more?
In 2014, the Canadian Public Health Survey (CCHS) found that 72 percent of respondents thought they had to do something to live healthier lives – a 13.9 percent increase since 2001.
Seventy-seven percent plan to actually do something to improve their health, such as reducing stress, changing their eating habits or sleeping more and exercising – another 9.5 percent increase since 2001. And 59 percent have made some improvements.
It is clear from these statistics that "health" – increased awareness of health, lifestyle and practices related to risk and prevention of disease – is on the rise.
On the surface, this might seem like a positive cultural development. Who can argue with trying to be healthy? But health has another side – the tendency to place responsibility for health and well-being directly on the shoulders of individuals.
Or, in other words, it makes the country qualify to protect its citizens. (Remember the good old days, when Ottawa used to pay 50 percent of provincial expenditure on health care?)
Health is now a moral obligation
The fact is, we are increasingly "responsible" in the past few decades to look after ourselves, with less support from our provincial and federal governments. The pursuit of "welfare" has become a kind of moral imperative that cannot be separated from the broader political and economic goals of the country.
As Canadians, we enjoy the benefits of a socialized health care system, but even so, the necessity of this individual responsibility to all Canadian society consistently shows, say, health promotion and popular lifestyle rhetoric.
For example, the health column in Canadian women's magazines states that it is possible to "re-train your brain," which states that unhealthy habits can be improved simply by "changing your perspective."
If your bad habit is that you "often postpone exercise," you only need to "choose a more positive online influence." If your bad habits are the inability to stick to healthy eating goals, you only need to "predict your feelings about food" before you start eating.
Urging individual readers to become self-employed self-managers and responsible for their well-being, this magazine column goes on to list a range of other personal weaknesses and their quick fixes, all of which lead to the good and bad choices of readers and their choices. ability (read: obligation) to live their lives more responsible for the good of everyone.
Citizenship is a biological project
And here comes the idea of "biocitizenship".
Through engaging in self-care practices – that is, making "right" types of lifestyle and medical choices – modern citizenship in the West has become a kind of biological project. It depends on individuals who fulfill their responsibilities to the entire community by accepting and carrying out their duties to care for themselves.
From relaxing baths to spinach smoothies, self-care is definitely "trending." However, the more we find ourselves moral and social obligations to be proactive about our health risks, whether it's eating right, exercising more, quitting smoking or even filtering out potential genetic diseases.
The moral obligation has even developed into a kind of right.
In my book on the history of Tay-Sachs disease, I show how some parents of children born with this fatal disease sued "wrong birth" and "live wrongly." They claim their right to be responsible biocitizens – by stopping their pregnancy. – refused when doctors, genetic counselors and the like failed to test Tay-Sachs or did not tell them correctly about the results when they did.
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The point is that biocitizens are responsible for being involved in self-care for the good of all.
Good biocitizens are healthy citizens who don't spend too much on health care dollars by having expensive health problems that can be prevented if they keep themselves better.
And, as I found in several exploratory studies, this message came to us from all over – from our workplace in the form of Employee Assistance Programs, from campus medical services in the form of "health promotions" and even from shopping centers in the form of "mall programs walking "designed to help people exercise more.
As a fairly recent development since Thatcher and Reagan came to power, the neoliberal trend is towards greater privatization, financialization and declining state responsibility for social welfare. As part of this, there has been a transformation of "patients" into "consumers" and a shift from "care and social rights" to individual "ethical obligations".
All of this reflects how individual freedom in this context is considered a kind of "freedom".
Unfreedom is the capacity, or even obligation, to act which – given its moral tone – is not really very free at all.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't aim for quality of life and try to be as healthy as possible. But choosing quinoa rather than cannoli is more than a matter of personal preference. I think it's important to reflect on our self-care choices in their political, economic and socio-cultural context.
So, will you try to become a better citizen in 2019? Or can you rely on your government to do more than what was done – and take care of you too?
Shelley Z. Reuter, Associate Professor of Sociology, Concordia University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.