Health check: What Week?

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS Natural Mineral Water Week. It had passed you by? Four out of five of us do not drink enough - water, that is - and dehydration poses serious risks.

Perhaps you were preoccupied with Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. Or Autism Awareness Week, or Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, or National Condom Week. Food Awareness Week is coming up, and Male Cancer Awareness Month. Oh, and my daughter reminds me it is National Pet Week.

These are important issues that must be taken seriously - but I confess I view awareness weeks with a smidgen of cynicism, after a discovery made some years ago by a pretty blonde reporter I know.

This reporter was asked to investigate the growth of awareness weeks, and how embarrassing clashes are avoided - eg between National Condom Week and British Fertility Awareness Month. She found that there is a central database recording the days, weeks and months used by institutions to ratchet up their profile in the public consciousness. There were no restrictions on who could claim a week - so the girl promptly designated her own birthday as Be Nice to Blondes Day.

An awareness week in itself does not make a story. And yet, with a little imagination, we could tickle the public consciousness.

I propose National You're-Not-As-Ill-As-You-Think-You-Are Week - to remind people that most illnesses get better of their own accord. Then Moaning Minnies Month, when people with grievances about medical care could express them in a giant Complaints Fest to be held at Earl's Court. Ministers would offer reassurance; medical negligence lawyers would advise on compensation; post-traumatic stress specialists and karma-restorers would calm the psyche. Then patients could return to their doctors with renewed optimism, and doctors might feel less defensive about what they do.

Finally I propose a Risk-Free Awareness Week, to introduce the novel idea that life at the end of the 20th century for those of us living in the West is astonishingly safe. For my own part, I tell my children not to smoke, and be careful crossing the road. All other risks pale into insignificance. Oh, all right then, in deference to Food Awareness Week, I might tell them to suck an orange.

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