The pressures of modern life too often make it difficult to take the right health choices, writes Pieter Nota.

Across the world, people want to maintain and improve their health and well-being, and that of their family and friends. In recent research carried out by Philips, looking after the health of family consistently ranks as one of the top five priorities in people’s lives, regardless of their age or the country they live in.

Health trends in many countries, highlighted in reports like this recently published landmark research, show the importance of making positive changes in our daily lives. Research shows that diseases linked to lifestyle, such as cancer and heart disease, are now the dominant causes of death and disability worldwide. Thanks to advances in treatment, the odds of surviving a heart attack or cancer have significantly improved, but we can’t rely on overburdened healthcare systems to compensate for the lifestyle choices we make.

What’s driving this gap between the aspiration to live a healthy life and the reality of increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, and how can we close it? To answer this, we need to understand how people live their lives to recognize the increasing complexity and competing pressures on how we spend our time – with our friends and family, meeting the demands of work, getting exercise and getting enough rest.

Technology can be an important part of the solution, but it also contributes to the problem. It gives us kitchen appliances that can help save time preparing fresh meals, but it also gives us tasty but unhealthy foods, and the temptation to be inactive.

In our research, 90% of respondents said that eating healthily is important in their lives. But when it comes to the day-to-day challenges of looking after your family, it’s hard to live up to that commitment. Too often it’s a trade-off between quick and easy food that’s unhealthy, and healthy alternatives that take longer to prepare and are going to be hard to convince children to eat. We need solutions that change the balance of this equation in favour of the healthy option.

Oral healthcare is another area where our individual choices have a big impact – and there’s a lot of room for improvement. Bad oral health is a global issue, with four out of every five people in the world suffering from gingivitis, potentially leading to bad breath, swollen and bleeding gums, and loss of teeth. There’s also a big correlation between oral health and general health: 90% of all systemic diseases have some connection to bad oral health or have an oral manifestation.

This isn’t a challenge that’s going to be solved by relatively rare trips to the dentist. It’s up to each of us to look after our own teeth, every day. And it’s up to those of us in the oral healthcare business to provide the meaningful innovations that will make a difference.

The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is Resilient Dynamism. To make a real difference, this has to be seen as more than a concept applied at a macro level to institutions, governments and businesses. It must be understood in the context of the individual, and the choices they make every day.

We can only be resilient as a society if the building blocks of that society – individuals and families – are resilient. The consumer and technology industries have an important role to play in developing the innovations that will help people bridge the gap between aspiration and reality to achieve a healthier and better lifestyle. If we can tip the scales in favour of the healthy choice, we can make a meaningful difference to society as a whole.

Author: Pieter Nota is CEO Philips Consumer Lifestyle and member of the Board of Management, Royal Philips Electronics. He is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2013 in Davos-Klosters.

 Image: A jogger runs through a park REUTERS/Francois Lenoir