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Old 09-20-12, 05:00 PM   #1
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Post Why are we idiots about taking care of our health?

Sean


Faced with a risk of communicable diseases, humans tend to be very responsive, altering their behavior and taking preventative measures. There are well understood risk factors for things like Lyme disease and hantavirus, and many people have managed to change their habits to minimize risk. Faced with the risk of a noncommunicable disease, like cancer or heart disease, we don't tend to do nearly as well, even when the risks are equally well understood.

Why are we so lousy at simple things like eating well and avoiding cigarettes? A perspective in this week's Science (part of a series on noncommunicable diseases) suggests we've been going at the problem all wrong. In general, we've been asking people to step back and think about things like eating well. But the authors of this piece point out that a lot of our problems take place precisely when we're not bothering to think. And the only way around that issue may be a bit of social engineering.

Many approaches to public health are based on what has been called the deficit model, which assumes that people just don't know enough about the risks associated with problematic behavior. If we just get them enough information, and maybe provide a bit of encouragement, then they'll stop smoking. Or hit the salad bar. Or do whatever is necessary to reduce their health risks.

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