A Challenge of Epidemic Proportions: Getting Healthy Behaviors to Stick

Monday, April 27th, 2009
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

While world leaders take measures to head off a global pandemic of swine flu, I’ve been re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point for my book club. In his examination of social epidemics, the author defines the “stickiness factor” of a message — the characteristics that cause it to remain active in recipients’ minds. Gladwell, who covered the AIDs epidemic for the Washington Post, says that the environment must be right for a message to spread. In a featured story in this week’s Healthcare Business Weekly Update, Duke University’s Ruth Wolever advises health coaches on the value of motivational interviewing: “Understand the client’s competing commitments and allow space for the individual to explore them and resolve their ambivalence so that healthier behaviors will ‘stick.'”

Gladwell also devotes a chapter to the “stickiness” of smoking among teenagers and the genetic disposition of this age group to imitate others and try on new behaviors and attitudes. While Gladwell presents an epidemic approach to solving this problem, a coalition of Oregon health groups have another strategy described in another of this week’s stories: launch an ad campaign touting the 60-cent increase in the state’s cigarette tax.

If tobacco use is an issue for your organization, don’t miss this week’s featured download, Putting out the Addiction — Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Programs.

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