Behavior change: easier said than done

Danielle Lepar

Danielle Lepar

A few weekends ago I was in New York visiting some friends.  In desperate need of caffeine one day, we wandered into a certain, well-known coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up.  Not having encountered the relatively new nutrition labeling before, I took an exceptionally long time inspecting the menu.  I had heard that the calorie-contents of specialty coffees are higher than most people think, but I didn’t realize they would be quite SO high! I was deterred from getting anything too fancy that time, but was skeptical as to whether I’d be able to last the holiday season without ever indulging.  As an HBHE student I often feel I should be more of a behavior change role model, but I have a certain weakness for pumpkin spice anything.  Moreover, it got me thinking about what we talk about in a lot of HBHE classes and behavior change more generally.

If you’ve taken HBHE 600 or another theory course, you’ve likely encountered the notion that information-only public health programs are often less successful in producing positive health outcomes than programs that, say, teach a skill.  Not only can you practice and improve a skill, but you may very well be able to apply it to different behaviors as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for people to be aware of the nutritional value of the food they eat, but if we really want people to stop guzzling so many extra large double-mocha-chip blasts or whatever, it’s probably not enough simply to put the calorie contents on the menu in fine print.  After traveling back to Ann Arbor, this notion was reinforced by a study we read in my health program evaluation class.  Ironically, the study found that people at four large fast food chains in New York actually ate MORE calories after the calorie posting requirement went into effect.

As future public health professionals, studies like this are a reminder to us to focus our efforts on strategies that are evidenced-based.  With this, time and resources can be focused on efficient programs and policies that improve the possibility to create positive health outcomes.

Michigan Informatics offers tutorials on how to retrieve more evidence-based public health resources.

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