Hypochondriac Nation
Sunday 2 November, 4.00pm until 5.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1

We live in a state of perpetual health-checks. From government screening programmes to campaigns encouraging us to examine our breasts and testicles on a regular basis, scrutinising our bodies for signs of disease has become routine. We can buy DIY health kits to check our liver function, blood pressure or cholesterol, and are issued with a constant stream of official advice about how we can modify our diet and lifestyles to ward off disease and death.

But how scientific is the rhetoric of ‘healthy living’? How far do screening programmes and lifestyle advice actually help to improve our health? Is awareness raising about terminal illness a practical step in the fight against cancer - or does it rely on a superstitious notion that we can ward off disease through looking out for it? Have you wondered why an increasing proportion of the otherwise healthy population now seems to be suffering from vaguely-defined syndromes or disorders; why alternative medicine continues to do a roaring trade despite scientists continually disputing its medical benefits; and why middle-aged men with heartburn take themselves off to Casualty with suspected heart attacks?

Should we aspire to ‘wellness’; or is our obsession with healthy living creating a population of patients-in-waiting among the worried well, causing a drain on NHS resources and a bigger one on the human spirit. The session will be followed by a drink in the bar.

Shaun Matisonn
chief executive officer, PruProtection, Holding Company of PruHealth and PruProtect
- Raymond Tallis
fellow, Academy of Medical Sciences; author, philosopher, critic and poet; recent books include NHS SOS and Aping Mankind; chair, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying
Tracey Brown
director, Sense About Science
Dr Martyn Lobley
NHS GP and medical journalist; columnist and feature writer for The Times ‘Body & Soul’ section and for Pulse, the GP’s newspaper.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely
president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London

 Produced by
Tony Gilland associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

 Battles in Print
A Hypochondriac Nation, Tracey Brown

 Recommended readings
Home health tests: dodgy DIY?

Sales of health self-testing kits are soaring. But can you trust the results? Three Times writers put the tests to the test

Carol Midgley, The Times, 30 May 2008

Health MoTs 'will save 2,000 lives a year'

Buses fitted with medical testing kits are to be sent into communities to give health MoTs to patients, under new Government plans.

Kate Devlin, Telegraph, 3 April 2008

Making sense of testing

A guide to why scans and health tests for well people aren’t always a good idea,

Sense about Science, March 2008

Ignore these scaremongers - I'm not giving up my bacon butties!'

So now it's the great war on bacon. After the battles against smoking, alcohol and being fat, the not-so-innocent breakfast staple is the latest target of the increasingly preposterous health police.

Michael Hanlon, The Daily Mail, 1 November 2007

The Diagnosis? We’re just hypochondriacs

Millions of Britons are denying themselves their favourite foods because they wrongly think they are bad for them. They are victims of wholly imagined ailments that stop them enjoying many dishes.

Emma Bamford, Daily Express, 18 September 2007

Playing Balls - why are men becoming obsessed with their health?

Britain's National Men's Health Week in June 2006 kicked off in London with the opening of the 'Dick Monologues', a show in which 'men were invited to stand up and discuss their relationship with their penis and anything else that springs to mind – including mental health issues and what has worked for them'.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Battles in Print, 2006

Health Obsessions

Transcript of opening plenary speech at the Health: An Unhealthy Obsession? conference.

Frank Furedi, Academy of Ideas, 12 February 2005

The Tyranny of Health: Doctors and the Regulation of Lifestyle

This book exposes the dangers of the explosion of health awareness for both patients and doctors. The author argues that we need to establish a clear boundary between the worlds of medicine and politics.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Routledge, 11 October 2000

Session partners

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