Rethinking Global Public Health
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
In 2007, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler concluded in the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine that obesity appears to spread through physical social networks. This was an important scientific observation because it opened up a debate about the role of social interactions in shaping public health behaviors. Yet in many ways, their findings were not new; ancient thinkers have long recognized both the existence and importance of “stone age” social networks in shaping individual behaviors. One only has to recall the proverbial wisdom, “bad company corrupts good manners.”
Over the next few decades, the global economy will lose trillions of dollars to diseases that are largely preventable and manageable through simple behavior modifications like eating healthier meals and exercising more. Yet we cannot expect individuals to change their behaviors in a vacuum. Families and friends make healthy or unhealthy choices based on social and cultural pressures, especially when it comes to profoundly social activities like exercise and eating. If we are ever going to solve this trillion-dollar problem, we have to think outside the box, outside the clinics, and outside the hospitals. We have to think about how people behave in their neighborhoods, homes, and places of business.
- Health Care