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22 July 2008


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Christy P

This is the sort of science reporting that makes people distrust science. I'm not saying it is a bad study, I am just saying that it can easily lead to the sort of public confusion that makes people just give up and eat whatever feels good. I'm going to have my students read it and discuss in class the implications of such work for public health and clinical medicine. What does this mean for health educators? Meal planners? What do you tell your patients?


The truth is, the "truth" is complicated and doesn't lead to easy answers, like "don't eat saturated fat, it's evil." There's tension when it comes to health education, because there are segments of the population who aren't interested in listening to anything complicated. You still have to reach those people, with whatever message will help them the most.

But it's frustrating if you belong to a different segment of the population, to hear everything oversimplified to the point of inaccuracy, over, and over, and over again.

And there's always a tension in public health between creating a message that is best for the population (the message that, if heard by a certain fraction of the population, will result in the most people moving from an unhealthy category to a healthier category) and what is best for the individual (the message that Mr. Jones, or Miss Smith, needs to internalize and follow for him or for her to get healthier.) They are not necessarily the same message, and for certain Messrs. Jones and Smith, the message that is best for the population may even be completely opposite.


Oh, hey, I just thought of something I wanted to ask you. Re: "this is the sort of science reporting...that can easily lead to the sort of public confusion that makes people just give up..."

This is a real question and I am not trying to be a smart-ass, but... is there any data to substantiate this? I mean, has anyone done any research regarding the effects of messages (mixed or single-point, confusing or straightforward, accurate or inaccurate) on people's attitudes and behavior? Do people, in fact, give up when they read news stories like this? Are people, in fact, more likely to make deliberate choices if they receive one kind of message than another? Do government health educators actually put these messages through the same kind of intensive focus-group research that major food companies put their advertising messages through?

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I think I read something somewhere about this

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