In the shopping centre close to where I live, shoppers are greeted by a message written in large letters on the wall.
‘Welcome’, it says, ‘walk this way’. The ground slopes up slightly and after twenty yards there’s another message, usefully informing you that the steps are coming soon.
But the messages don’t stop there. After only a few more steps the wall announces, ‘You’re half way there, don’t stop!’ Then, greeting you on the main concourse, in tall bold letters it exclaims, ‘Well done you! Who needs a gym?’
If we patronise adults like this and treat them like children, then we shouldn’t be too surprised if they start acting like children.
And hand-holding doesn’t end with patronising signage: it’s everywhere.
It’s on our private plasma screens and on our public bill boards, feeding into the notion that society is a bawling, crawling infant whose feelings mustn’t be hurt, regardless of the consequences.
If you take a short walk down my local high street, there’s a poster next to a fast food outlet, advertising how a gastric band can transform your life.
As it flaps in the wind like a piece of loose skin, it conveniently forgets to mention that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise is a much more difficult (and worthwhile) aim. It seems that offering to staple someone’s stomach shut is better than confronting unpleasant truths about our behaviour.
And as our children chomp their way into an obese future, it seems that our profession has become increasingly reluctant to pronounce on these harsher realities. We would much rather pat a child on the head for having one choccie bar rather than two. After all, no matter how skilled you are, reminding parents that life is full of tough choices and tougher responsibilities may lead to a complaint.
So society gorges itself and stuffs the empty wrappers down the back of the sofa. Then it demands that the medical profession respects it and doesn’t push it too far – if we upset it, it will have to light up another cigarette to cope with the stress.
But if I haven’t got a backbone, I may as well resign myself to a decrepit future, full of sweet watery urine, crackling knees and furry coronaries.
Next time you manage to climb up a short flight of stairs, don’t stop to think: just pat yourself on the back and say, ‘well done you’.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.