Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Public health theory links ... helpful for social and behavioral students (and everyone else!)

I'm a big advocate of using theory to create public health programs, instead of just trusting your "gut." Too many public health practitioners, who are poorly trained in theory and evidence-based approaches, put together programs like this: FocusDriven that are largely designed to appeal to our emotions and fear of physical injury. Although I suppose these worked at one time, campaigns such as these slip out of our conciousness the minute we navigate to a different page.

With that in mind, I've found some really awesome articles that summarize public health theories relating to behavior change, and I'm going to share them here! Get stoked!
  • This article from the National Institutes of Health relates specifically to cancer, but the information can be generalized to most public health practice. This is probably the most practically applicable document I've seen that relates to public health theory.
  • Here is a file that summarizes public health theory nicely, including some that you usually don't see, such as Protection Motivation Theory and the Elaboration Likelihood Model.
  • Finally, it's important to recognize that different populations require different theoretical models to inspire interventions. Children are a particularly relevant group because their cognitive abilities differ greatly from those of adults. This article explains a child-specific model that can be used to spark behavior change.
Again, it's important that public health professionals adhere to existing scientific knowledge in crafting campaigns and interventions. Otherwise, taxpayer money and funds from private enterprise are essentially discarded as they are applied to feel-good efforts that really don't fix anything.

I'm continually shocked at the inability of our health community to lay proper foundations for research and intervention. Perhaps this is because many of us in this field are poorly educated about public health, considering the current clinical focus of medical technology today. It's clear that a paradigm shift must occur that stresses true evidence basis instead of self-serving, happiness-inducing, ineffective programming.

This means that we, as public health professionals, must acquire enough knowledge to recognize when something is a bunch of horse hockey. Learn your statistical measures. Understand what total crap looks like. Sources will tell you that D.A.R.E. is an effective program, for example ... but if you actually READ the studies, the evidence for this suddenly vanishes.

Think critically, people.

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