Are Bad Habits Permanent?

October 11, 2017

It appears that when confronted with bad news about health, people don’t change their habits. How can you help your customers change?

It appears that when confronted with bad news about health, people don’t change their habits. There is no question that dietary patterns, exercise, and general health habits are hard to break, and that’s just one of the reasons why communities, schools, CPGs, supermarkets, the government, and others are pushing to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors early in kids. But what about older people who have ingrained habits for years? How do we change their habits - especially the bad ones? 

You would imagine that when one receives a serious diagnosis or illness that might be the trigger point. Apparently not, according to several studies that expose the reality that many are unwilling to take responsibility for their own health - especially through diet and lifestyle changes, both of which are under our control. 

Research has demonstrated that certain healthy lifestyle habits can improve overall health and reduce risk of recurrence. For example, studies have found that heart attack patients who go through exercise-based rehab reduce their risk of dying by about 30 percent. Several studies have also demonstrated that women with breast cancer who are regularly physically active (versus those who are not) reduce their risk of death (due to breast cancer) by 50 percent or more. Despite this compelling research and more, patients resist change.

A study published in the American Heart Journal evaluated over 1,200 men and women who had suffered a heart attack and were overweight. In the year following the incident, participants had lost a mere two-tenths of one percent of body weight. That’s less than a half a pound for a 220 pound person! According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and other serious conditions.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology published a study that followed over 9,000 cancer survivors evaluating positive lifestyle changes following treatment. Surprisingly, most survivors made little or no lifestyle changes; for instance, fewer than 20 percent of the cancer survivors were consuming the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day, which contain powerful antioxidant phytonutrients that are known to reduce the risk of cancer. 

So we have to wonder if along with the a life threatening diagnosis, are doctors relaying the need to make healthy lifestyle changes? Apparently not. CDC researchers interviewed 1,600 cancer survivors to find out whether they had received guidance on lifestyle changes and nutrition suggestions relating to preventing recurrence. Only one in three said their physician offered info about diet.

Clearly our doctors, perhaps because of capitation time constraints or because of a lack of knowledge, are not getting these important messages out, and as a result Americans do not understand how proper diet and exercise will actually make a difference in their lives. 

Supermarkets and in-store dieticians have a clear opportunity here - customers need support after diagnosis. Coordinate the in-store pharmacists with the in-store dietician, so that he or she can send newly diagnose, or those who are interested in prevention to meet with the dietician. Store tours targeted towards specific chronic diseases or illnesses, pointing out certain foods, will also help customers decide what is good for them and what is not.