Public Health

In Defence of Impulsivity

Written by Dr Rebecca Brown

It has become commonplace to identify a lack of impulse control as a major cause of poor health. A popular theory within behavioural science tells us that our behaviour is regulated via two systems: the fast, impulsive system 1 (the ‘impulsive’ or ‘automatic’ system) and the slower, deliberative system 2 (the ‘reflective’ system). Much of our behaviour is routine and repeated in similar ways in similar contexts: making coffee in the morning, travelling to work, checking our email. Such behaviours develop into habits, and we are able to successfully perform them with minimal conscious input and cognitive effort. This is because they come under the control of our impulsive system.

Habits have become a focus of health promoters. It seems that many of these routine, repeated behaviours actually have a significant impact on our health over a lifetime: what we eat and drink and how active we are can affect our risk of developing chronic diseases like type II diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Despite considerable efforts to educate people as to the risks of eating too much, exercising to little, smoking and drinking, many people continue to engage in such unhealthy habits. One reason for this, it is proposed, is people’s limited ability to exert conscious (reflective) control over their habitual (impulsive) behaviour.

Given this, one might think that it would be preferable if people were generally able to exhibit more reflective control; that behaviour was less frequently determined by impulsive processes and more frequently determined by reflective deliberation. Perhaps this could form part of the basis for advising people to be more ‘mindful’ in their everyday activities, such as eating, and regimes for training one’s willpower ‘muscle’ to ensure confident conscious control over one’s behaviour. Continue reading

Video Series: Should We Pay People to Quit Smoking or Lose Weight?

Should we pay people to quit smoking or lose weight? Would paying them amount to coercion?  Is there a risk that if we start paying for healthy behaviour, its value will be corrupted? Is paying unhealthy people unfair to those who already lead healthy life styles? In this video interview (with Katrien Devolder),  Dr Rebecca Brown from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics responds to these and other concerns and defends the use of financial incentives as a tool for health promotion.

Video Series: Tom Douglas on Asbestos, a Serious Public Health Threat

Asbestos kills more people per year than excessive sun exposure, yet it receives much less attention. Tom Douglas (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics) explains why asbestos is still a serious public health threat and what steps should be undertaken to reduce this threat. And yes, the snow in The Wizard of Oz was asbestos!

Asbestos neglect

Written by Tom Douglas

This is an unedited version of an article originally published by The Conversation

 

‘Calais Jungle Camp littered with asbestos’, ‘Buckingham Palace could be vacated to remove asbestos’, ‘Safety concerns for refugees and workers as Nauru asbestos removal program kicks off’.

Headlines such as these occur with monotonous regularity. Widespread asbestos use throughout much of the 20th century has ensured that the next contamination scandal is never far off, and asbestos-related legal decisions and personal tragedies often make the news as well. But despite the ongoing media attention, asbestos has not captured the public imagination as a public health threat, at least, not in comparison to other comparable threats like excessive sun exposure and drink driving.

Asbestos is a versatile fibrous mineral that can be cheaply mined and has unusual fire resistance and durability. Its use exploded in the twentieth century, when it was included in such diverse products as automobile brake linings, pipe insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, textured paints, concrete, mattresses, electric blankets, heaters, ironing boards and even piano felts. There is no safe threshold for exposure to asbestos dust, with even single exposures having been linked to cancer. Rates of asbestos-related cancer have recently been on the rise in Europe and Japan and look set to climb in many developing countries where asbestos is still being widely used, often without safety precautions. According to WHO estimates, asbestos now causes more deaths globally than excessive sun exposure. In the UK it is estimated to cause almost three times as many deaths as road traffic accidents.

Continue reading

Cross Post – Most powerful lesson from Ebola: We do not learn our lessons

BY MAXWELL J. SMITH & ROSS E.G. UPSHUR

This article is cross posted from the OUPblog.  To see the original article please follow this link: http://bit.ly/1mjAg0Z

 ebola

‘Ebola is a wake-up call.’

 

This is a common sentiment expressed by those who have reflected on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It is a reaction to the nearly 30,000 cases and over 11,000 deaths that have occurred since the first cases of the outbreak were reported in March 2014. Though, it is not simply a reaction to the sheer number of cases and deaths; it is an acknowledgement that an outbreak of this magnitude should have never occurred and that we as a global community remain ill-prepared to prevent and respond to deadly global infectious disease outbreaks. Continue reading

Is unwanted pregnancy a medical disorder?

by Rebecca Roache

Follow Rebecca on Twitter

Abortion is often in the news. Yesterday, The Atlantic Wire reported a poll of Americans’ moral views, which found just under half of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong. Today, The Sun is running an article on the devastating effects on women of having abortions. And, a couple of weeks ago, the law in Ireland was changed to allow abortion under certain circumstances.

Whether (and under what circumstances) abortion is ethical, and whether (and under what circumstances) it should be permitted by law, are two of the most well known and fiercely debated issues of our age. I do not wish to engage with them here. Instead, I will argue as follows:

  1. Abortions cause suffering, and neither permitting them nor banning them is likely to reduce this suffering to an acceptable level.
  2. The best way of reducing the suffering caused by abortion is to reduce unwanted pregnancies.
  3. Current attempts to reduce unwanted pregnancies in the UK do not work well enough.
  4. Viewing unwanted pregnancy as more like a medical disorder and less like a social problem is likely to enable more effective measures to address it.

I then propose such a measure, and defend it against some possible objections.

Continue reading

Condom County: Porn, Condoms and Liberty in Los Angeles

On November 6th, while most of the world focused on the United States’ presidential election, the citizens of Los Angeles County confronted a slightly more explicit question at the voting booth: should porn performers be required to wear condoms while filming? Nearly fifty-six percent of LA county voters said yes. Continue reading

Authors

Subscribe Via Email

Affiliations