There are four important things
that we need to take into account when we are trying to decide
the goal of our health education activities.
If a person knows what
he or she should do, it does NOT mean that he or she will
do it. Other factors influence our decisions. Having
knowledge about a behavior is only one factor. People
often learn about a behavior long before they are willing
to adopt it.
If a person wants to do
a behavior, it does NOT mean that he or she will do it.
Sometimes we are blocked and cannot do what we want to
do and know we need to do (e.g., for lack of time, money).
In addition, people often do not seek help from others
(e.g., friends, health providers, God) to overcome a problem
or change a habit.
Many times we try to increase the level of FEAR that
a person has in order to get him/her to do a preventive
action. However, sometimes
the problem is too much rather than too little fear of
the disease or problem. For example, we speak of
the danger of diarrhea to convince a person to use the
latrine. However, sometimes too much fear can keep a person
from doing something.
For example, some women have avoided getting pap smears
because they were very afraid of finding that they had
cancer. Some would say, “If I have cancer, I don’t
want to know!” However, if cervical cancer is detected
in the early stages, it is easier to treat and there is
a higher probability that the person will not die. Another
example is going to the hospital for treatment. There
are people who are afraid to go to the hospital for medical
treatment, since they think of the hospital as “a
place to go to die.” With people who feel this way,
you probably will not want to increase their fear unnecessarily
by telling them they probably have something very serious
and should therefore go to the hospital for more tests.
Instead, it may be more effective to tell them that the
problem they have is probably NOT very serious, especially
if they seek treatment early, and that they should go
to the hospital to find out what the problem is. For these
cases, we often need to decrease people’s level
of fear. Concerning perceived severity of a disease, it
is important to determine if the problem is that the person
has too much fear or not enough fear.
Many of the actions that
people engage in that improve their health are NOT necessarily
done for health reasons. It is possible to encourage
a person to do something that improves his/her health
for reasons that are not directed at improving health
(e.g., washing yourself with soap in order to smell good).
We need to find reasons that motivate (or would motivate)
people to do something that will improve their health,
even if the reason is not health related (e.g., brushing
your teeth in order to have good breath).