Every day we make decisions that are decisive for our health. The lifestyle choices that we make with regard to diet, smoking behaviour, sleep behaviour and daily exercise are influenced by both psychological and environmental factors. Thus, the degree to which we are healthy and fit is a consequence of our so-called health capacity. How competent we are in making healthy choices, logically has a considerable impact on whether or not we age healthily.
People's health potential can best be described as the trust and ability of people to create optimal health themselves, taking into account their biological and genetic background, the social, political and economic environment and access to healthcare. This definition shows that - if we want to investigate how we can promote people's health - we have to take into account two things: the extent to which people are able to make healthy choices and the conditions that influence that health potential.
In the past, a lot of research has already been done into how people can be helped to make healthier choices. Think of research into the provision of information, education, training and feedback, but also, for example, the introduction of labels to stimulate healthy purchases in supermarkets.
Researchers have also found that wearables can stimulate people to exercise more, which can reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases. And customer-oriented technologies such as portable scanners and smart shopping carts help people make healthy choices in the supermarket.
Yet there is a growing awareness that only interventions (to influence the choices of people) do not help to live structurally healthy. The reason is that many of our daily decisions are made routinely and without much thought. There appears to be a significant interaction effect between individual abilities and the home -, work - and school environment. Think of the supply of fast food restaurants that contribute to unhealthy food choices, or the lack of sidewalks and cycle paths, that does not stimulate the use of the bicycle or ‘Shanks’ pony’.
In short, there is a lot to look at when improving the health capacity of people. By combining research into both elements, connecting research from different disciplines and carrying out multidisciplinary research, we can tackle the complexity of the concept of capability. By working together within the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, we can increase the effectiveness of the interventions aimed at improving people's health potential, with the ultimate goal of creating more healthy years for everyone.