Health of People: Prevention and Behavior Change


“There isn’t one of the major health care conditions which isn’t related to human behavior,” says Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology and director of University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change. And so, she argues in the short video below, in a time when the resources allocated to British health are being squeezed, “Changing people’s behavior is the heart of reducing demand for health care and also ensuring that the health care that’s delivered is more effective.”

Michie chaired a blue-ribbon group gathered by the Campaign for Social Science to examine the intersection of social and behavioral science with public health care and which on April 5 will release a detailed report titled, The Health of People: How the social sciences can improve population health. It mirrors a similar effort conducted in 2015 which looked at the economic impact of the social sciences in the United Kingdom and which produced the influential Business of People reportSAGE Publishing (the parent of Social Science Space), the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the British Psychological Society, Cancer Research UK, the Society for the Study of Addiction, and Wellcome Trust supported the campaign in this effort.

Policymakers also appearing on the video explain the importance of social and behavioral science to an arena where technology and pharmaceuticals are often perceived as being the keys to better health. While not denying the importance of those tools, Kevin Fenton, the director of health and wellbeing for Public Health England, suggests those are really steps on a longer journey.

“Understand,” he says, “that the research process is not finished until there is effective dissemination.” Integrating social science into that larger structure is incredibly important, he adds.

And while on a surface level few people would reject the idea that behavior is important in healthy choices like quitting tobacco or staying fit, the idea that we need to study human behavior to actually achieve anything is a much harder sell, says Robert West, director of tobacco studies at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre. It’s not just ‘common sense,’ he stresses, noting the hundreds of millions of pounds that have wasted on ‘common-sense solutions’ that in the end just didn’t work all that well.

“Social and behavioral sciences,” he says, “have a range of tools and ideas and findings which go way beyond common sense when it comes to helping people develop interventions and understanding problems.”

The release event for the Health of People report is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April  5 at Nesta, 58 Victoria Embankment, London. Please contact Daniela Puska to apply for a space. And to view the first pre-release video for the Health of People project, on social science and health service delivery, click here.


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