There are three things health care delivery systems can do to encourage environments that trigger healthy habits, according to Wendy Wood.
- Advocate for policies that promote healthier environments for everyone. This includes:
1a. Responsible advertising that doesn’t take advantage of vulnerable consumers, such as children. “This is something our health care system can get involved in,” says Wood.
1b. Taxation and food subsidy policies in line with current health knowledge and that support healthy products and behaviors.
1c. Prominent healthy options in government settings, particularly in schools and on military bases. “This is where we can actually have a lot of change because the government makes a lot of the decisions in these settings,” Wood explains.
- Model healthy environments themselves. “We could start thinking about health care facilities as standards themselves, role models for lifestyle health,” says Wood. Make healthy options salient and less healthy options more difficult by designing buildings that promote easy exercise and by offering primary access to healthy foods.
- Teach patients how to form healthier habits. “We can go beyond the simple monitoring that I always get — which is very helpful, again, but does not explain to me how to change my behavior,” Wood says. “One way to do this is to actually help people understand how to control their home and their work environments so that these environments are conducive to healthy behavior.”
We know, from research, that people who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off control the foods available to them in their home environments. And people who exercise regularly structure it into their lives. “They’ve set times and places so they don’t have to make decisions about how to do it,” says Wood. “It’s become automatic. It’s become a habit.”
From the NEJM Catalyst event Patient Engagement: Behavioral Strategies for Better Health at the University of Pennsylvania, February 25, 2016. Watch Part 1 of Wood’s talk: People Who Live Healthy Lifestyles Don’t Deliberate.