For want of a better metaphor (or is it a simile?), health promotion is a bit like being a bookmaker, in terms of helping people weigh up the odds.
Sometimes the decisions we make in relation to our own health are less about right and wrong, and more about what is less wrong compared to all the other available choices. Being empowered and empowering others in healthy living is about having and providing all the available opportunities to make informed choices. Whether or not we make the ‘right’ choice is another issue altogether: the decision-making process is a careful weighing up of risks, between what the research suggests, what the health experts are saying, what family and friends think, and what you feel you can and need to do.
Take the idea of responsible gambling, for example. It’s perhaps less well known and understood than the concept of responsible drinking (the ‘drink and drive and you’re a bloody idiot’ school of thought), but evidence shows that if not conducted responsibly, gambling can also impact on your health and wellbeing. Arguably, it can’t kill you in the same way that tobacco, alcohol and junk food can if consumed excessively, but excessive gambling can wreak all sorts of other havoc in your life, which could very well lead you down the path of ill-health.
There is evidence to suggest that some groups of immigrant and refugee communities, like the rest of our community, have a problem with gambling. And it is all too easy to conclude that these issues arise in certain communities by virtue of a special problem gambling gene, or some inherent cultural trait. But as we know, the world of ‘culture’ is far more complex and complicated than that. Culture doesn’t just relate to language and ethnicity, there is also the culture of youth, of sporting clubs, of workplaces and of entertainment, which all have a role to play in determining how a person might judge when and if a recreational activity is risky.
There are profound differences across culture, gender, ethnicity, age (to name just a few factors) in the ways people understand, interpret and respond to risk. The various contexts in which individuals make decisions need to be taken into consideration when developing programs and strategies which either prevent ill-health, promote health or otherwise minimise health risks. Acknowledging gendered and cultural differences in decisions about healthy choice can take various forms. Providing the opportunity for others to speak for themselves about what is meaningful for them is a good place to start. Otherwise, we run the risk of further marginalising and stereotyping the people who are already behind the proverbial eight ball.
Find out more about culturally appropriate gambling support services for immigrant and refugee communities here.