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GPs and jolly good sports

The idea of encouraging doctors to prescribe sport – as parliament is about to do by law – is a bold step in the right direction of making healthcare more than a matter of medicine.

20 January 2017

Trials of sport-as-medical-treatment in Strasbourg have shown the success of such “lateral” prescribing. The initiative has to come from someone with an overview of the health system.

But why not from politicians?
The big question is: how do you get people to adopt habits that are beneficial for them and that reduce their dependence on costly medical treatments? Should the state oblige us all to get fit, or just give us a benign nudge?
The answer, as envisaged by the new measure, has to be a bit of both: gentle coercion but always giving preference to the good of the individual over the interests of the health service bureaucrats who may see this as a way to save money. If the scheme works as intended it will only be through consultation with the patient and will demand great sensitivity on the part of the doctor.

There are many questions around this new approach to long-term medical conditions. Will a sedentary doctor be competent to prescribe sports he would not do himself?

Will he have the time to talk through the list of options and work through the patient’s objections? And what if the patient is only prepared to learn archery when he is prescribed a workout in the gym?

Then there is the pharmaceutical side effect. How will drug companies and pharmacies react if the health service invests more in fresh air, exercise and personal trainers than in shelves full of profit-making pills?
But the first step has been taken: to make an official connection between regular physical activity and health, and to get doctors to lend this connection their authority. Sport is more than physiotherapy for a particular ailment. It is also good for the mind; it can boost motivation; and indirectly address psychosomatic aspects of illness.

Primary considerations
Most commentators are convinced there is nothing more to discuss about the looming presidential election. The second round, they assume, will be a contest between François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. All other candidates have been written off. This month’s left-wing primary is the last chance to throw up a surprise and widen the field. All registered voters can participate if they pay a euro and promise they share the values of the left. Such lax conditions, of course, are open to infiltration by activists who have no interest in the success of the left but who have strategic reasons to prefer one candidate over another. If nothing else, at least the primary system gives ordinary people a way of expressing political preferences before they vote for real on Sunday April 23, 2017.

Ale and hearty
While domestic sales of red, white and rosé wine have been declining for years, there has been an explosion in the production of exquisite French craft beers scented with fruits and flowers (see pages 8-9). Wine has always been considered a privileged part of French cultural heritage whereas until recently beer, except in the far north, was merely a refreshing drink and a second best choice.

Now, however, a well-stocked fridge means having at least one speciality beer to offer any guest not in awe of grape varieties, terroir and the rest of the reverence surrounding wine. Perhaps we are not far away from a host announcing, “I thought we’d open a little bottle of Brasserie de Lille ’98 which I have been saving for a special occasion.” As long as we are not expected to sip, swill and spit it out: that, as any beer drinker knows, defeats the object.

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