Lasting change in healthy behaviour must come from within
21 January 2014
MANY EXPERTS NOW TELL US that the principal goal of health education should be to change people's habits and attitudes.
Unfortunately, such a goal points the finger at what people do wrong, rather than building on what they do right.
It is based on the paternalistic view that the 'ignorance' of the poor people is the main cause of their ill health, and that it is society's job to correct their bad habits and attitudes.
A people-centred approach to health education takes the opposite position. It recognises that the ill health of the poor is, in large part, the result of a social order that favours the strong at the expense of the weak. Its main goal is not to change the poor, but to help them gain understanding and skills needed to change the conditions that causes poverty and poor health.
In education that focuses on behaviour and attitude change, people are acted upon by the system and the world that surrounds them where as in education that works for social change, people act upon the system and the world that surrounds them.
In making these points, I am not saying that there is no need for changes in personal attitudes and behaviour. But whose attitudes need changing the most?
Whose attitudes and habits cause more human suffering - those of the poor or those of the' well-educated ' dominating class?
The unhealthy behaviour of both rich and poor results partly from the unfair social situation in which people live. So rather than trying to reform people, health education needs to focus on helping people learn how to change their situation.
As people become more sure of themselves and their capacity for effective action, their attitudes and behaviour may change. But lasting changes will come from inside, from the people themselves.
George Kuias is a registered senior nursing officer in the medical clinic at Divine Word University
Excellent comments, George. Back in the 19th century in the slums of London the poor were dying of cholera. The rich people in their beautiful houses and grand life styles were quick to blame it on the way the poor lived. It was all their fault.
Fortunately there were good people around who spent time working out what the problems were and helped to clean up the slums and stop the cholera.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 21 January 2014 at 09:24 AM