Food shopping in an uncertain world

Like many people, I have been shocked at the problems created by panic buying of food supplies.  But I’ll also confess I have perhaps followed it more than others because my brother (Prof Richard Wilding) is a supply chain specialist and is being interviewed and quoted on the problems.

Whilst there are the really extreme cases that we see of people buying up (sometimes with a view to sell on) huge volumes of in-demand products, I suspect that everyone is putting a little bit more in their shopping baskets.  All these small changes do add up – they add up to empty shelves and less supplies for those who can only shop weekly due to finances and/or ability to carry or store large volumes of food.

So what should I do?  Should I adapt my food shopping for an uncertain world, and if so what is reasonable and ethical?

I’ve realised that I can’t adapt unless I examine what I do now – how do I go about managing the larder (including fridge and freezer)? Or, what do I do when I do what I do? Continue reading

The truth about…TV experiments

I have started to get concerned about shows such as ‘The truth about…’ and  ‘Twinstitute’.  I do enjoy watching the shows but I worry that viewers take away an oversimplified ‘health’ message based on a single experiment that is designed for ‘good viewing’ rather than necessarily good overall scientific practice.

In particular, I am thinking about experiments conducted on Truth about…fitness (shown a year ago but re-released recently on iplayer) and Twinstitute (first season showing now) which both compare the benefits of two different forms of exercise. Continue reading

Areas of practice and situations of interest

Please note: if you are studying TU811 the contents of this blog should not be favoured above a detailed reading of the module material and assessment information and advice from your tutor.

 The OU module TU811 Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change introduces the concepts ‘area of practice’ and ‘situation of interest’.  I studied this module in 2010 and I now have the privilege of being an associate lecturer on that same module.  The other evening I told my group of students that – with hindsight – I didn’t really ‘get’ the concept of ‘area of practice’ when I did the module and tried to explain why.

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What system is it exactly?

When we use systems to help us understand the busy, messy world of human activity, we are in effect drawing a boundary.  We identify some things that are ‘in’ our ‘system of interest’ and that means other things are outside it i.e. not a focal part of our interest.  We do this whether we realise it or not – the problem is, if we are not being explicit about our choice of boundaries then we blur them for ourselves and other people.  Then we get confused and conflicted.

Take for example, the NHS planning guidance published in December 2015.  The word system is used in it a lot – it is all about ‘the system’ but here are some insights into my thoughts as I read it…

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Discourses of wellbeing, health and work

As  someone who likes to read into language and discourse, I’ve been thinking recently about the different ways in which the relationship between wellbeing and health on the one hand and work on the other is framed.  Sadly I don’t have time to do a ‘proper’ study to see whether others are saying this or to reference back to all the sources that are leading me to these understandings, but this is where my day to day observations and reflections are leading me.

I see three different types of ‘framing’ going on…for convenience I have named them….

  • wellbeing and health in order to work
  • wellbeing and health at work
  • wellbeing and health through work

So here are my explanations…

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More on the meaning of ‘health’ (and wellbeing)

Not got much time but I don’t want to lose this one…

The Journal of Public Health Policy have just published a ‘Special Section’ on “What is health?” with the editors intro entitled “What do we mean when we use the word health?

The special section centres on an open access article by Bircher and Kuruvilla (2014) introducing the Meikirch Model of Health.  The model offers up a particular definition of health:

Health is a state of wellbeing emergent from conducive interactions between individuals’ potentials, life’s demands, and social and environmental determinants

This definition:

  • resonates with me – ’emergent from conducive interactions’ reminds me of my own post from ages ago now on A systems perspective on health and wellbeing which talks about interactions and emergence.
  • throws up intrigue – ‘is a state of wellbeing’ connects me to my recent post on Conceptions of wellbeing – if health is ‘a’ state of wellbeing what other states of wellbeing are there? or is health the only state of wellbeing? It strikes me that you could swap the words ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ over ‘Wellbeing is a state of health…’ and still get people nodding their heads wisely.
  • and questions – the abstract also mentions lifecourse approach – so is it a ‘state’ or ‘dynamic’?

Overall I quite like it.

Unfortunately the commentary offered by other authors in the Special Issue aren’t open access and Lancs Library isn’t a subscriber.  Trying to source.

Conceptions of wellbeing

I feel the need to start this post with an acknowledgement of the gap since my last post.  Whilst I don’t pretend to think there are people out there missing my blogs – I’m more worried about the number of streams of thoughts I have had which have come and gone and are unrecorded.  It’s all because  I’ve been busy keeping up with the reading and discussion forum for my PhD modules – and the assignments.  I’ve also worked with two others to plan, design and facilitate the first ever Open University Systems Thinking in Practice alumni and friends get together – which was great.  The formal taught work for my PhD finished today, I’ve got one more assignment to do – and then hopefully can use the summer to consolidate some of the material I have covered through blogs.  It’s been a great journey, just haven’t had time to stop and take stock of it on the way.

Anyway, back to the real reason that I started blogging today.  It was prompted by a seminar I participated in last Monday.  Newcastle University, Sheffield University and NEF have got some funding to run a series of seminars on the ‘Politics of wellbeing‘.  It is essentially people from the discipline of political science coming together to consider what the discipline offers to the ‘shift’ towards wellbeing in policy and politics – both in a critical and a constructive way.  This seminar was the second in the series and I was asked to speak.

Preparing the talk led me to articulate and make explicit something that had been going on in the back of my mind for a long time. Continue reading

So what is the evidence base for the ‘call’ to be evidence based?

Just recently, the concept of ‘evidence-based public health’ or ‘evidence-based policy’ (and therefore, evidence-based public health policy) has started to worry me.  It’s so part of our discourse that you don’t often stop to think what does it really mean? and is it ‘really’ happening? and is it really possible?  But then when you do, you kind of realise that even the notion of ‘evidence’ is contested – what does it really mean to the people who advocate for ‘evidence-based xxxx’?

After christmas, the module on my PhD is called ‘Knowledge, evidence and theory’ so I suspect/hope I’ll have the opportunity to think of this more then, but in the meantime I’m pondering what does it mean to say that a public health initiative (policy, programme, project, service) is or isn’t underpinned by a sound evidence base?  I’ve jumped around a few books and internet searches in order to gain some initial impressions which I hope will form a basis for further inquiry into this area.

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Have the three domains of public health practice had their day?

As part of the introductions for my current PhD module, we were all asked to introduce our job roles through the lens of the ‘three domains of public health’.  We all did so – but it was only when I was chatting to another student, that I dared to say that I didn’t really like them and was pleased when she agreed.  But before rejecting something outright on the basis of an emotional reaction – it is perhaps best to look where they originally came from and what they were originally for…and explore the thoughts behind my emotional reaction.

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Equity, social determinants and the ‘usual’ public health suspects

WHO Publication I’ve just familiarised myself with WHO’s publication “Equity, social determinants and public health programmes“.  It was written in 2010 with a view to drawing lessons from the WHO Global Commission on Social Determinants in order to think further upstream than the traditional public health programmes.

I have to say I struggled to start with.  I always groan a little when I see documents about ‘public health’ where the chapter headings are the ‘usual’ suspects – diseases such as cardiovascular disease; diabetes; mental disorders and ‘lifestyle behaviours’ such as alcohol; tobacco; diet.  My worry is always that this silos people into thinking of the determinants of each of these ‘usual’ suspects without considering the crossovers between them – what you then get is practitioners fighting for the attention of different stakeholders on a disease by disease or risk by risk basis.  Just recently I was at a WHO European Healthy Cities Network conference where there were calls to move away from that perspective to think more holistically about what creates health.

But I thought I’d persevere, after all – equity and social determinants were in the title.  And I’m glad I did.  In essence the introductory chapter introduces a common analytical framework to consider inequities in major public health priorities i.e. usual suspects (more later).  Then this framework is applied in each of 11 chapters to all those ‘usual’ suspects.  Then in the final chapter – yeah – they synthesise the findings across the whole lot and highlight those social determinants that should be addressed in order to have an effect across a substantial number of all those ‘usual’ suspects.  In other words, they recommend working upstream in an integrated, holistic way – rather than a disease by disease or risk by risk way.

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