Future health services are in for a serious shake up if only a tenth of the ideas presented at last weekend’s annual conference of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) are introduced.

The three-day event at Auckland’s Grand Millennium was the first time the conference had been held in New Zealand and attendees responded warmly to its recognition of Aotearoa’s cultural heritage, despite a few but easily forgivable pronunciation difficulties at times.

This is a broad-spectrum event and is open to everybody from medical specialists including cardiologists and psychiatrists to counsellors, dental practitioners, social workers, osteopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths, general practitioners, pharmacists, researchers, university academics, exercise physiologists and more.

All are joined under the lifestyle medicine umbrella which is defined as something that “bridges the gap between health promotion and clinical practice with a multidisciplinary, whole system approach to the chronic and lifestyle-related disease problem.”

ASLM’s key focus is in bringing professionals together “to prevent, manage and treat conditions that result from physical inactivity, poor diet or nutrition, smoking, alcohol over consumption, chronic stress, sleep debt, social isolation, loss of culture and identity, exposures to toxins and other influences of society and environment.”

We’d be doing this event a serious injustice if we thought we could cover everything in one article, so we plan to release information in much more chewable bites over the coming weeks.

To put it mildly though, it was overwhelming from almost every angle.

It ranged from a seriously mind challenging explanation of the discoveries scientists are making in the area of gut health to the results of a study on the benefits of signing yourself up to a health retreat.

And what about the benefits of doing yoga? We’ll be looking into that too.

Despite the wide variety of subject material available here there were some common themes and concerns.

Chief amongst these would have to be the expanding problem of chronic lifestyle disorders such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity and diabetes. On this all presenters were totally united – it’s a serious problem requiring urgent action and the solution to it adds up to one word only, nutrition.

Nutrition itself isn’t enough to explain it all however and this is where an interesting separation occurs because, if the solution to the problem is nutrition then the question boils down to a matter of diet and on that point there is clear division between Keto advocates on one side and whole food plant-based / Mediterranean style advocates on the other.

Another major issue that comes up in association with this of course is how to convince the public.

Because of the overwhelming number of doctor visits now occurring because of CVD, obesity and diabetes, doctors have had to minimise their appointment times.

Shared medical appointments are seen as a potentially workable solution in this respect and not only on matters diet but for a wide range of health education issues as well. In this area the connection with family (whanau) was viewed as essential.

For New Zealand’s Dr Lance O’Sullivan however, the need to deliver quality medical information in remote settings was paramount.

On this matter he announced that he was currently in the process of developing an AI (artificial intelligence) driven platform that would make it possible to deliver quality medical care remotely at a fraction of the current cost of a visit to the doctor.

The announcement sparked several questions on the workability and responsibilities of such a scheme with one final questioner asking: “have you ever thought of standing for Parliament?”

He paused, smiled broadly and said: “Watch this space.”

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