The mass media bombards consumers with health advice — but that doesn’t necessarily result in behavior change.
“Probably everybody now knows that they should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day,” says Wendy Wood. “That was part of a CDC initiative [and] since that program was started, people’s knowledge has improved. Their consumption of fruit and vegetables, however, has gone down.”
We’re good at changing people’s knowledge and behavior, notes Wood, but we’re not so good at changing repeated behaviors. “It’s time to switch our focus from informing people to behavior change,” she says. “It’s great to know how many servings of fruits and vegetables you should eat, but I don’t think that’s going to do it for your health.”
Nevertheless, the dissemination of health information to an increasingly informed average consumer is a good thing, adds David Kirchhoff. “It is great to give people the tools if they choose to empower themselves,” he says.
As for consumers getting swamped with too much medical information, potentially resulting in confusion, Kirchhoff isn’t sure that’s the issue. “It depends if you’re talking about health information for people who are dealing with illness, or if you’re talking about health information on things like diet, nutrition, and everything else,” he explains. “I don’t know that I see that as a problem, I just don’t believe that it is necessarily, by itself, even sort of a fix.”
From the NEJM Catalyst event Patient Engagement: Behavioral Strategies for Better Health at the University of Pennsylvania, February 25, 2016.