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This morning I woke up tired and sore, with the onset of a cold I think. You know the signs, sniffy nose, itchy throat, swollen glands. But with a 3 year old to get ready for nursery and a full todo list for the day I couldn’t afford to be unwell, so in the few minutes I had while the little one was putting on her own shoes and socks I chucked some oranges, half a lemon, a chunk of ginger and a carrot into my branded (you know the one I’m talking about) blender and made myself a juice.

So why am I telling you this? And what does this have to do with People Powered Health, a concept I learned about yesterday at an event hosted by Nesta’s Health Lab?

Well. I can’t remember the last time I went to the doctors (actually I can he told me I was Too Fat to Run prior to running the Brighton Marathon in 2014) and I sure as hell wouldn’t go to a GP for a cough or a cold, either for me or the little one, unless she was seriously unwell and even then I would phone for advice first.

Now this is not me saying “Ain’t I good, sparing NHS resources?” but what it is me saying is that I understand that my health is MY responsibility and that I have enough self awareness to adjust my lifestyle and diet behaviours to affect my health from time to time…in other words I listen to the messages and signals my body so cleverly gives me and I act accordingly.

We all do that right? Hmmm??

Lets face it, the NHS and wider social/health care in the UK is in a bit of a mess right now. It’s near on impossible to get a GP appointment when you need one in many surgeries, weekends are apparently a danger zone if you need to be admitted for an important operation, and for many of our vulnerable communities the services are just not there to give them the best quality of life.

Now clearly I am not an expert on any of this, but I like to think I at least have an opinion based on what I can see and can contribute something to the debate around how we improve the health (and more importantly happiness) of our nation, cos my full time job is kind of about doing that these days. Which is why I sought out a place at yesterdays conference event and why I am so glad I went because clearly the solution to this all should not rely solely on government agencies.

Halima Khan, executive director of the Health Lab said in the conferences programme,

Together we can help solve the dilemmas of today by forging solutions that are both deeply human as well as highly technological. the future of health needs to be just that: both people powered and knowledge powered.

And in her opening address to the audience of what seemed like a thousand health care professionals and other stakeholders, she spoke about social movements, the population becoming more confident in managing their own health outcomes and the importance of networks providing practical and emotional support.

But what does this look like in practice?

I tell you what it looks like, its the 200 odd women who have been part of my online running club (The Clubhouse) over the last 12 months…..and the thousands who feel part of the wider TFTR community.

But to call The Clubhouse  simply a running club is to do it a disservice I think, as the women themselves describe it as a family, and in some cases a lifeline. These are women from all backgrounds, all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness, some starting out on their running journey still doing walk run intervals and some training for full marathons.

What do they have in common?

They are sick of the diet and media industries ripping their self confidence to pieces and they want to improve their health and happiness in a way that is achievable and sustainable for them.

Do I have robust evidence which proves that women are overcoming their depression and anxiety by being a member, or a fancy chart which shows how much weight they have lost or even how active they are these days. Nope. Because I am just one person running a global social movement from the corner of her two bed apartment in East London, often with a snotty 3 year old running around under my feet.

Simon Stevens, chief Executive of NHS England was next up on the stage, talking about all the threats the NHS faces over the next few years. He reminded us though that the H in NHS actual stands for “Health” and not “Health Care” which I think people really need to get their heads around.

Of course its there as a safety net, and we all pay into it, but ultimately WE…YOU and I are responsible for our health and wellbeing.

Much of what he spoke about fitted well with the things I highlight in my Elephant in the Room keynote (I am a professional keynote speaker on this topic if ever you was looking for one), looking at the stigma that is attached to obesity and inactivity in adult women, and the links social isolation, shame, mental health and in many cases a generational snowball effect leading to rising childhood obesity. I should know I learned everything about dieting from my mum, and look where that got me (20 stone and completely inactive by aged 22 if you must know)

My favourite quote from that day came from Simon shortly after the most tweetable (“diet is the biggest modifiable risk factor we have in the UK after smoking”) one which was “this is more than just asking people to get a grip”

Overeating, reliance on sugar, processed food etc is not just a case of getting everyone to pull their socks on and eat better. For many women (and men) food is an addiction with long seeded issues around self worth and feelings of powerlessness.

On a side note there was some fab healthy food on offer during the breaks and lunch – it was noted!!!!

The day was jammed packed with interesting presentations, polls and discussions, some of which went over my head a little, as I am not from a health care background. But I also sensed an element of frustration in the room and of course playing out on social media.

We are talking here about innovation and new ways of doing things, and technology is changing the landscape without a shadow of doubt, and at pace – yet much of this innovation still has to be driven by someone, it still has to be taken on by the general public, we have to get “The people” excited and fired up about improving their health.

There was so much talk about the collection, control and analysis of health data, captured on wearable devices…but trust me, there’s nothing better than hitting 20,000 steps on your tracker as proof you’ve earned your Big Mac Meal, wearing a device is not always enough.

What we need is a transformational shift in mindset, and this CAN NOT come from above, it has to come from within. We hate being told what to do, what to eat, how often to exercise. We need to be trusted to make the right choices, to trust ourselves, to trust our bodies to do the right thing, and for this to happen we need to show what healthy and happy looks like for the average (and not so average) person and empower the whole population Fat or Thin to come on that journey too.

But what do I know, I am just here running a little old community of plus size runners right?

Well.

With a start up loan of just £2,500, and within 2 and a half years I have managed to engage 25,000 women across social media in support of my work, women who have bought my books (New Year, Same You – A guide to health and happiness at the size you are being the latest…you should read the reviews), downloaded my online fitness programmes, or proudly worn a Too Fat to Run top in public.

How’s that for return on investment?

I feel I have already started a social movement for plus size women, and a visible platform where a dialogue can be had around health, but….and its a big butt!!!

Its flipping hard work.

I rarely pay myself a living wage, I work long hours, often evenings and weekends. I have to fight to get people to take me and my ideas seriously, I am forever jumping through hoops to access support and income to engage in the proper channels in this area. Applying for funding from organisations that say they want to be innovative and work with the private sector but then decide not to fund you after all….despite “Loving what you do”

(excuse me while I sob a little while longer)

This was not the post I wanted to write about yesterdays event, but sod it. If we want change, someone has to stand up and be the barer of bad news.

Innovation already exists…some of it needs support though to grow, to scale up, to spread out to where it is needed most.

Helen Bevan, a change management specialist in health pulled in at the last minute spoke in my opinion the most amount of sense all day. She said that people need to believe that their actions were leading to a higher purpose, not just for individual good. This is why women happily post unflattering pictures of themselves running on my Facebook page each week, because they understand that its not just about them, its about inspiring others and showing there is hope for change.

“There needs to be a narrative” said Helen, and I couldn’t agree more. You need to know your WHY.

My WHY is that I have a 3 year old daughter who I want to grow up without hating her body. I want her to enjoy food instead of seeing it as the enemy. I want to show her that her body is an incredibly thing that can enable her to live a glorious life.

That is my WHY!!

The government needs to start thinking about what their WHY is. Is it simply to reduce the cost of providing an NHS service, or is it to create a healthier, happier more robust population?

The government need to think about what innovation ACTUALLY means and how best they can support individuals like me…I was tempted to say entrepreneur there, but that implies I have capital behind me to drive this forward and spend my weekends sunning myself with Richard Branson (although I am free this weekend Rich)

Look.

I could spend the next 3 years going to conferences like this, engaging with government officials, and sharing my learning, but wouldn’t my time be better spent doing what I am good at, actually challenging mindsets, inspiring communities to make changes, training up an army of Too Fat to Run coaches to deliver activities and provide support in their neighbourhoods?

There was so much talk yesterday of patients and doctors, facilities and systems where instead I would have liked to have heard move about the shifting of self limiting beliefs and motivation for change. How do we take some learning from the business/technology worlds where huge tribes of activators are created, and simple ideas can be shared globally just by having a true sense that change is on its way.

People powered health is without a doubt the way forward, and I think women are at the heart of this. Lets give women back the power they once had to improve the health and wellbeing of their families and wider communities. Lets make them the leaders, the role models, the change makers.

If you want to see an example of people powered health check out this video about #OneBigFatRun (apologies for the budget look of it…the images should do the speaking though)

If are a government department, CCG, local authority, academic institution or any other body interested in this area of work, and you are able to provide practical, financial or technological support to my work then please do get in touch.

To fund the work I am doing with inactive and overweight women around the UK, I am also available as a keynote speaker for conferences, consultations and away days. Check out my speaker page here

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