You can get garden variety health advice from the daily newspaper, the "health" section of most book stores, and of course thousands of web sites. I'm hoping to present thought provoking and maybe change provoking thoughts about individual and community health. This blog is not just what to do about health, but how to think about it. I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas with readers. July, 2010


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Car Thefts and Health Promotion Science

Today I was reading a story in the Washington Post regarding the ten most commonly stolen cars.  The article was formatted so that readers would breathlessly page through the tenth most widely stolen, the ninth, all the way through the car with the number one distinction.  I was waiting for the drum roll when it was finally revealed that the Honda Accord is the most frequently stolen vehicle.  The insurance accountants who provided the rankings further stipulated that the 1994 model was the single most widely stolen in 2011.  This caught my attention because I happen to own a Honda Accord, though not that model.

I would like to think that every reader immediately thought of many questions about this ranking. First and foremost, wouldn't the Accord be at or near the top of theft numbers simply because it has been the most widely sold vehicle for many years?  In addition, because these cars are so well made, each vehicle is in service for more years than less reliable cars, and therefore are at risk for theft for a longer period.  The key issue for consumers and risk managers alike is whether a specific vehicle has a greater risk of being stolen, but the data reported in this article do not answer the question.  This reminds me of the joke about the man who decided he needed to move when he was told that he was most likely to have an accident within 25 miles of his home.

What does all this have to do with health promotion?  It is just this.  In popular culture and conversation, people often express the extent and proportions of the intellectual challenge of something by saying "It is not rocket science" or "It is not brain surgery."  No one ever says "It is not health promotion!"  This is unfair I suppose, but my point is that health promotion doesn't get credibility and trust by divine right.  We have to earn it, and we do so by asking hard questions about health claims, by insisting that our strategies and methods are based, not on good intentions, but on evidence and standards of best practice.  The nature of health and disease is such that people can and will make claims about prevention or treatment that are based on well-intentioned wishful thinking.  We cannot drink this particular cool aid.

In our academic programs we are working hard to do a better job instilling in students a habit of critical thinking.  We are driving home the lesson that program plans must be based on research and evaluation evidence, and when there is no such evidence, evaluation of our efforts is of the first order of importance.  Never can we use the rationale "Well, it can't hurt...."

Of course we assume that the lay public, as a group, is quite vulnerable to fuzzy thinking about the causes of health and illness.  No matter how hard we strive to correct misconceptions, it is hard to keep up.  The public is probably more interested today in not losing their cars, but we also must keep helping them to understand the real things that are likely to steal their health.