When it comes to sustainability, the macro nature of many themes - climate change, biodiversity loss, etc - mean that many problems and ultimately solutions will be interconnected. In other words we can't consider them in isolation.
For sustainability professionals, that means a number of things:
Firstly we need to keep on educating ourselves on a broad range of sustainability themes to make sure we understand the overall landscape.
Secondly it highlights the importance of investigating and understanding how things are connected and what the potential knock-on effects of certain actions are.
Thirdly, it means understanding that sometimes the whole system needs to change, not all at once, but in the right sequence of steps - a transition!
Finally, it means understanding the extent of 'the system' - not all solutions are applicable in all locations or for all people.
In summary, we need to have a holistic approach and rather than think about individual solutions for discrete problems, we need to understand the impacts on the overall system.
A holistic approach or a broader focus on overall wellbeing has been core to health care practices in a number of countries in the east for centuries, however, it has become more mainstream globally too.
A holistic approach to healthcare focuses on the whole persona and takes a more natural and integrated approach to promote healing. An important difference with the allopathic approach (the 'Western medicine' approach) is that a holistic one aims to address the underlying cause of illness, rather than just treating the symptoms.
You can read more in a blog I wrote “Everything, everywhere, all at once - holistic approach to healthcare” 👇🏾
Let's stick with healthcare and in particular a devastating set of diseases: dementia.
Dementia, with 55 million sufferers globally and almost ten million new cases per year, is the seventh leading cause of death and a significant cause of disability and dependency among the elderly. A 2019 Global Burden of Disease study estimated that global cases could rise to almost 153 million by 2050, particularly as the World population is getting older.
So then how do we account for findings that the incidence rate of new cases of dementia in North America and Europe fell by 13% between 1988 and 2015?
As well as treating dementia directly, could actually having a healthy heart and being generally well help stave off the worst impacts of dementia?
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Dementia more than just about the brain?
Dementia is a term covering a number of diseases that affect a person's ability to think, remember and perform normal daily activities. It is progressive, gradually destroying nerve and brain cells.
In that last couple of years there have been some breakthroughs in potential treatments for slowing down the progression of conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease focused mainly on reducing the accumulation of two toxic proteins, tau and amyloid beta in the brain.
However, a study led by researchers at Harvard TV Chan School of Public Health found that incidence of dementia in North America and Europe actually declined by 13% between 1988 and 2015, and more so in men than women (24% versus 8%). That time period is well before the recent treatment breakthroughs. So what is going on?
Carol Brayne, professor of public health medicine at the University of Cambridge in an article for the FT, believes that "optimising neurological function" throughout a person's life is key and that can be done by improving not only brain health but also physical health. That's where cardiovascular health or how healthy our heart and blood vessels are comes in.
You can see from the chart below that cardiovascular diseases have the biggest burden globally in terms of impact on life.