Two views on behaviour change

I was at the Food Matters Live exhibition again today. We tasted lots of drinks for Club Soda’s dry January programme The MOB, which will again have non-alcoholic drink reviews/suggestions for every day of the month. Our tastings included camel’s milk (disappointingly very similar to cow’s milk), half a dozen tree sap drinks (varying quality), and a countless number of “healthy” fruit juice drinks (healthy to very varying degree I would say…). We also tried an “oxygen” drink, which is basically a fruit juice that has been foamed. Rather heroic health benefits were made for this concoction as well. I do get that oxygen is very good for you, but I’m not sure eating/drinking it is the best way of absorbing the goodness.

A panel discussion on food and behaviour change had Ben Goldacre and Richard Wiseman on it. BG’s opening was a very good brief statement on how most of the misleading media stories on food and health actually come from academia (in particular press releases). He noted that clean, good quality information is the first thing that is needed by consumers if they want to eat a healthier diet. And that requires good evidence-based quidance from the experts.

RW talked a bit about health information and messaging as well. “Keep it simple, keep it positive” was his summary. We as humans like simplicity and positivity. So far so not controversial.

Where things got more interesting was around the “what is to be done” question. BG was quite adamant that the main issues are top-down: society and culture need to change so that people can more easily make healthier choices. RW on the other hand insisted that there are still small choices everyone can make, despite the social pressure for fatty and sugary treats (this difference came about while discussing children, and children’s parties’ catering in particular).

Hmm. I will now make a horrible generalisation, and probably libel many good people (including BG who I have a lot of time for). But there is probably something here, between a stereotypical doctor and a humble psychologist. An “I will tell you what is best for you and you will do exactly so” versus an “I will try to help you to make better (but not perfect) decisions for yourself”? I would take the latter any day myself.

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2 thoughts on “Two views on behaviour change

  1. Is asking for society to shift a top down approach? Getting producers and scientists to tell the truth (good information) and be open about their product (rather than spin) would be a societal shift that levels the playing field between the brands and their customers.

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    • Ok, quickly written, badly worded… What BG said sounded almost like “there’s no point in trying to resist peer pressure because you can’t – we need to legislate the bad away”. To be fair to him, he did rule out banning things and massively hiking up taxes as bad for poorer people. Didn’t quite say what he’d do instead…

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