June 20, 2012

Are Health Fairs Healthy?

I recently spoke at another health fair. I have been doing these things for years and, although I have found it fun (yet very frustrating having to compete with the fitness people jumping up and down to the beat next door) I have always left feeling the need to shower. I really don't know why I continue to go to them as they are all the same...no matter what the town (big or small).

Oh, Kathi...so new...so eager. I have no idea what I was so excited about, but it looks like my friend thinks I'm nuts. You gotta love the health fairs...no matter how much I bitch and complain about them. It is a great way to get out there, have fun, and meet new friends (even if you never see them again).
I have to give this one credit, however, there were many booths supported by government health agencies or not-for-profits wanting to educate vs. sell (in other words, looking out for the client's best interest). But you still got your fair share of promises, pills, and powders. One booth promised me weight loss if I wore this rubber bracelet around my wrist. Another said I would look and feel better if I bought their series of pills. The fitness people were there with there irritating little spandex outfits on jumping up and down to the beaty music while using some crazy new gimmick promising toned thighs and chiseled abs. You had six, eight, and twelve week programs for weight loss and fitness and life coaches there to help you with your transitions (who, I might add, balked at all theory related to the psychology of behaviour change...um...ya...decades of research and a coaching certificate is all you need).

After my talk (and after sticking around there for what seemed like an eternity) I just wanted to get out of there and wash the day off me. I always have this expectation that people will critically think through any research that may challenge their product or service. That they always have the best interest of the client/customer in mind...but that is farthest from the truth (and something I"m reminded of every time I attend one of these fairs). I truly do not believe that health and wellness fairs are really for the health and wellness of those that attend, but for the health and well-being of the wallets of those that sell their services. Besides the booths that are there for public awareness and education (a rare sight indeed) most are there to sell you something.

Will I do this again. Hells ya! The happy ending to my story is once I got up and started speaking about the many facets of health and the reality of behaviour change and once I started telling real life stories (poking fun at my own expense - I think I may have tramatized many with my eating-cake-outta-the-garbage story) I started gathering a crowd and (I believe...I have to believe) making a difference. I talked about making a 12 month goal vs. the usual short term goals. I talked about the environmental and emotional reasons we fall off the wagon (and the importance of falling off occasionally). I made it real...cause that's what health and health change is all about.

If I am ever able to, I would love to organize the first Health Promotion fair and invite only those who support research-based, healthful practice. They will be passionate about educating without selling and critical thinkers with the ability of looking at their own beliefs and programs/services/product with a critical eye. They will sell health for health's sake (and no one will wear spandex).


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