Changing Public Behavior for Better Health: Is Education Enough?

  • James L. Nichols
    Address reprint requests to Dr. Nichols, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Occupant Protection, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590.
    From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC
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      While education programs are essential for changing public health behavior, they are not sufficient. Examples drawn from campaigns to reduce drunk driving and to increase the use of child safety seats, seat belts, and motorcycle helmets illustrate how education—both public information and more formalized education—can help catalyze other actions. However, by itself, education has not generally resulted in significant changes in the behaviors targeted. On the other hand, education of the public and advocacy groups has often helped enact necessary legislation. This sequence has frequently resulted in major behavioral changes. Even in such cases, however, when enforcement is inconsistent, public compliance frequently decreases. Education is an important first step in changing public behavior for better health.
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