Citing the research of Roy Baumeister, Dr. Neil Nedley says it’s the number one problem of the world: self-control. I couldn’t see it at first. But the more I thought it through, it began to make more sense. Take the top 10 causes of death in the world according to the World Health Organization.[i]
The number one cause of death and disease in the world and in the United States is coronary artery disease. We know how to prevent and reverse heart disease. Yet this continues to plague our society.
In the US, the number two most common cause of death is cancer.[ii] Yet up to 75%[iii] of cancers can be prevented with these lifestyle measures such as healthy eating, abstinence from tobacco and alcohol.
Chronic respiratory illness or COPD is the third leading cause of death globally and in the US. The majority of cases of COPD are due to tobacco smoking – an addiction pointing to the problem of self-control.
Other top leading causes of death including stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes are somehow tied to our diet and lifestyle and hence related to self-control. Then there are other problems not in the top 10 causes of death but plague society including addition, overeating, crime, domestic violence, sexually transmitted disease, debt, unwanted pregnancy, etc. Self-control touches so many areas of our lives.
On the other hand, research shows that those with higher levels of self-control are more successful at life. They tend to have more financial security, more successful careers, better moods, less substance abuse and less criminal convictions.[iv]
The understanding of knowing what can prevent or reverse disease combined with the inability to carry out the knowledge reveals our fundamental problem with self-control.
The Spiritual Significance
As a Christian medical provider, I believe the problem of self-control is actually a spiritual one. Paul lists self-control as the final quality among the fruit of the Holy Spirit.[v] It’s as if it’s the last, most difficult quality to attain.
The Bible seems to highlight the problem of self-control from the beginning in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were drawn in by the forbidden fruit and ate of it even with explicit prohibition from God.
Fasting forward to the time of Jesus in the wilderness when he was tempted by the Devil. The first temptation was about self-control. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”[vi] The story of redemption reveals a subtext of humanity needing overcome its own impulses. In the Garden of Eden, humanity’s fall began with the problem of self-control. Through a victorious Savior, we are once again able to obtain it.
As Christian medical providers, how can we lovingly point out this problem to our patients?
[iii] Levine, Morgan E. et al. Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population. Cell Metabolism , Volume 19 , Issue 3 , 407 – 417
[v] Galatians 5:22, 23
[vi] Matthew 4:3