It’s Still Just A Message

I love working in public health. I honestly believe that there are few fields where the vast majority of the people not only enjoy the work, but are truly called by it. They enjoy helping people at the micro and macro level. They are the ones who give folks the ability to be healthy. By and large, they do this by depending on cutting edge research to inform what they do and what effects those interventions have on people. Truthfully, the amount of money going into public health research is money well-spent (and, some would argue, not enough). There now exists very good information on actions that people can take to live a healthier life. (And for my emergency friends, swap out healthier for better prepared and the rest of this post works just as well for you.)

So why don’t people take those actions we’ve been telling them to do over and over and over? Because I think there is a fundamental break in the process. We have excellent information locked away inside our brains–the very best, I’d say. But it’s not making it to the people who can implement it. Because as much as they come to our seminars and take our handouts and see the effects of their unhealthy behaviors and the effects of disasters the world over, they’re still not integrating what we’ve learned.

Just so you know, I had to rewrite the last part of that previous sentence. The original version said, “they’re still not listening.” Like it’s their fault.

We have the information, we provide it. Dust off hands, move to the next problem. One would think that after thirty or forty years of being almost completely ignored, we’d understand that maybe that process isn’t working so well. That maybe it’s not their fault for not listening to us. Maybe it’s our fault.

That’s kind of the message in this New York Times Well blog post from late last year:

Maybe, some researchers say, the problem is the message. It obviously has not had much of an effect.

The recommendation in the very next sentence, though, doesn’t really get at that:

The idea now is to make use of tools that psychologists have developed to assess people’s moods during exercise, asking how good or bad it feels as the intensity varies.

More research, yet still not on message delivery. The goal, if you read the article, is to inform the exercisers that maybe they’re doing it wrong, and if they just try to do it another way, maybe then they’ll be successful.

Dust off hands, move to the next problem.

But don’t worry, we’ll have this conversation again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.