Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Words Matter - Let's stop saying "Lifestyle"

I recently read an article by Paul Lincoln of the UK Public Health Network.

He argues that "I believe the term lifestyle or lifestyle factors should be completely abandoned by public health professionals/"  Why does he believe that?  Well there is a very good reason.  As Mr Lincoln notes, this term, “Lifestyle,” is a loaded term that reinforces stereotypes about individuals and a world view that people are majorly or entirely responsible for their own health. 

Mr. Lincoln suggests that the term "deathstyle" would probably be better because that clearly communicates that people are consciously making a choice to be unhealthy and die.  I also believe this "lifestyle" language in the public health debate is very harmful.  It places all the blame on the patient despite the clear evidence that patients do not actively choose to have diabetes or die early.  Sure, there are factors which affect things, if you don't eat right and don't exercise, that can be a factor in the emergence of diabetes in many of us.  But it isn't the only factor, genetics is certainly very important and probably more important.

And if we place the blame on the patient we take away the attention from things like industry which has a responsibility for producing health harming products.  We are seeing some of the backlash of that with what has happened to Coca Cola.  I think many of us believe that drink huge amounts of soda is not in the best interests of our health.  And Coca Cola is seeing that recognition in society, sales are down

What we haven't seen is a shift in the discussion taking the blame off the patient.

Mr. Lincoln argues that we should stop using the term lifestyle and talk about “behavioural determinants” which are socially, economically and environmentally patterned.  I'm not sure I like the term behavioural determinants, but I surely don't like the term lifestyle.  Words do matter.  What do you think?  Do you have a better term?


  1. I have a difficult time with this one. I have been called out for using the term lifestyle and when a writer, author, or wanna be media celeb uses the term, they do need to identify the lifestyle changes they are writing about. I have blogged about the different lifestyle changes several times, but I refuse to use the term deathstyle as this is too negative and I feel turns readers away.

    I sometimes agree that a more forceful message needs to be used, but I disagree with using a negative message.

  2. I don't like "lifestyle" because to me it implies it's something the person is doing deliberately, like a "flashy lifestyle." But in fact, many factors in the way we life are beyond our control. Does someone in a nursing home have a "nursing home lifestyle?" Maybe "way of living" like "way of eating" would make sense. "Deathstyle" is a horrid choice, because it implies people are deliberately killing themselves.