Best Behavioral Intervention Policies Must Include Innovation and Resilience

Bogenschutz writerGuest post by University of Minnesota, Rochester senior student, Lada Bogenschutz



Andrew Zolli"Heart disease is the number one killer in America, yet we do not have a war on cheeseburgers,” says Andrew Zolli. As a researcher in foresight, social innovation, and resilience at the organization Poptech, Zolli collaborates within a team to approach some of the world’s most significant public health challenges.  Within his presentation, he explains how cognitive bias affects widely spreading health issues, and mentions a number of new interventions that can fuel change.

Oftentimes, Americans ineffectively prioritize healthcare risks. Zolli shows how we inaccurately manage health care problems in a couple ways. First, people wrongly focus on fast-moving risks. “Fast moving trends get all the attention, but slow moving trends have all the power,” is how Zolli fairly puts it. So, the slower-paced health risks create a higher level of burden, but get a lower level of attention.

Zolli uses the example of terrorism versus global warming to further explain this issue. The health risk associated with terrorism is one in 28 million, whereas chances of being affected by melting glaciers in South America are one and six. However, trillions of dollars are funded for efforts to find bad guys such as Osama Bin Laden and Sudam Hussein, but there are limited funds to address melting glaciers in South America. Second, another problem is the concept of risk homeostasis. Oftentimes, new health regulations cause people to adapt their behavior to maintain the level of risk. An example that Zolli provides is when drivers see cyclists with helmets, they assume the cyclists are safe. Therefore, they drive faster, causing more accidents. With the constant misperceptions that these biases cause, the audience can clearly see the challenges that arise from addressing the world’s problems.

Zolli firmly believes that the best behavioral intervention policies must include innovation and resilience.  During his presentation, he describes a few strategies that function as effective solutions. One strategy to treat gun violence in Chicago shows a great example of an effective treatment. By training previous offenders to become violence interrupters, crime rate has decreased by seventy-five percent. Also, Zolli explains how games and applications can motivate us to do activities repeatedly. In 2003, nine billion hours were spent playing solitaire, showing the great relevance that technology has in our society. Zolli illuminates one iPhone application that uses a point system, picture texts, and social pressure to encourage healthier eating choices. These two examples provide resilience and innovation because they show ways that community health problems can change. We can use these tools to drive behaviors in a positive direction. By leaving us with these insightful new strategies, it is easy to see hope for public health problems that affect so much of the population.