January is the time we tend to contemplate what we want to achieve in the upcoming year.
New year resolutions are great for those who stick to them but many make similar pledges each year because we didn't quite achieve them in previous ones.
What we lack is a plan to attain them.
For example: "I resolve to get fit." It's a great aim but how is it actually going to happen?
Detailing specifics about your resolution will make change far more likely. You might commit to going to the gym twice a week, or walking daily for 30 minutes, to help reach your goal.
"I resolve to lose 5kg" is a fine intention but won't happen without realistic changes to eating patterns.
Cutting down on refined carbohydrates, eliminating soft drinks and fruit juice, reducing my portion sizes by 10 per cent ... these are all plans that can really help you to your new-year goal.
On a broader front, there are some things that would be great to see in the health arena in Australia this year.
The six ideas below are not resolutions, and realistically won't be achieved in 12 months but, at an individual, community and government level, we could resolve to make a start on them:
Vaping is still illegal in WA but many smokers have switched.
Australia has historically done well in reducing rates of smoking. Yet between 2013 and 2016 there was actually a small increase in the total number of smokers. Norway has halved smoking rates in a decade. In Scandinavia, alternate mechanisms for delivering nicotine are legal. In the UK, smoking rates are dropping as they support a switch to vaping, which allows delivery of nicotine without smoke.
Advancing these big picture items will be slow... that doesn't matter... what we need is to make a start.
Research has shown vaping is up to 95 per cent less harmful (note: nothing is harm free) than smoking. Europe Japan, the USA and New Zealand allow and (to varying degrees) promote vaping as a method for smokers to reduce harm. Australia remains an outlier, preferring to congratulate itself on past glories. Vaping will get more attention in 2018, and legislative change will follow, soon...
Research in 2017 showed this is actually a healthy breakfast.
2: Dietary guidelines overhaul
Documented widely in 2017, the rise in obesity rates and type two diabetes has coincided with the introduction of low fat dietary guidelines and increased consumption of refined grains. The official response from health authorities so far has blamed the public for doing what they were advised to, and to lambast those who point out the flaws in the current approach (including the relatively-useless star system).
Many people have had great success improving their wellbeing, losing weight and reducing their medication (like diabetes sufferers), by going back to the future and eating like their grandparents did until the late 1970s. Again, there will be no change at government level this year as too much vested interest is at play. However, many individuals will make the change and communities of these people are growing around Perth and Australia.
3: Access to medicinal cannabis
Australia joined a growing number of countries in November 2016 who recognise medicinal cannabis has clinical benefits to patients with certain conditions. Yet 12 months later, access remains difficult for most of them. Both the AMA and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recently acknowledged that prescribing medicinal cannabis is difficult for doctors and a framework for doctors and patients was required that, while maximising safety, does not unduly impair legitimate access.
We should expect changes in 2018 that allow relevant patients quicker access, especially as Australian-produced products become available for the first time, including here in WA.
Medicinal cannabis will soon be available for patients in WA.
4: Embrace technology
For all the negative talk about smartphones addictions, they can also help us address our health from home.
There are hundreds of thousands of health and wellness apps... some useful, many not. Knowledge is power and our ability to measure aspects of our health is growing exponentially.
Fitness, stress and sleep apps have helped millions of people with their exercise regimes, improve sleep patterns and manage stress. Monitoring blood pressure, lung function and blood sugar (to name just three) at home also helps us manage our many medical issues.
Apps and home-related healthcare are on the rise.
5: Avoid fads
This is the eternal chestnut. Whether it is the latest 'eat lemons on Tuesday' diet or a 'new-age fitness class', we can be drawn to the latest trend for no other reason than it is new.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with new trends; humanity does not progress without new thinking. However, with exercise, there are only two key components to success: find a regime you like and stick to it long term.
If you find something new you like, change your regime and then stick to that. With eating, the story remains the same: eat mainly real (rather than processed) food and never more than your body uses.
6: Talk about the future
The Medicare system was introduced when the Commodore 64 was the gaming console of choice. It serves us well but over the past five years it has become impossible to know how it may work in the future (without being accused of "attacking Medicare").
An aging population and higher rates of chronic illness mean Medicare and other health systems worldwide can't realistically survive without change. Currently there are no solutions but there never will be without proper, robust discussion.
Advancing these big picture items will be slow... that doesn't matter.
What we need is to make a start.
Read more blogs from Dr Joe at www.drjoetoday.com
Declaration: Dr Joe Kosterich is medical advisor to medicinal cannabis company Little Green Pharma and sits on the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association board.