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Behaviour Change - in the context of two models of public health



Public, Staff, Students

The Centre for Health Services Research at the School of Health Sciences, City, University of London welcomes Geof Rayner to discuss his findings on Behavior Change as part of the research seminar series. “Engineering shifts in social norms is a far from trivial task.” (Mind, Society and Behavior: World Development Report 2015. Washington, DC: The World Bank Group; 2015.)


Behavioural analysis has moved into the messy world of public policy. Almost any topic today seemingly requires behavioural consideration, or to employ recent World Bank terminology, the ‘engineering’ of social norms. Whether described as Behavioural Economics, Behavioural Science, or simply Nudge, advocates say that this supposedly new and helpful technique can help transform or compensate for the irrational or poorly judged biases of actors, institutions and social processes. While this focus on behaviour suggests itself to be new, it really isn’t and it has customarily taken a much broader format than those suggested within these economically-linked and often ideologically-informed nostrums.

In Britain the state has tried to enforce behavioural norms at least since the time of the Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws while the polymath Karl Polanyi once pointed out that England’s 1834 New Poor Law was chiefly devised to enforce working class behavioural compliance to the new rules of urban capitalism. New forms of education – perhaps even a ‘Health Enlightenment‘  - ranging across hygiene, nutrition, to birth control - forms part of this modernising flow of events and whether driven by statist, voluntary and commercial forces, including, most importantly, social movements. In regard to commerce economic historian Joel Mokyr has argued that the soap and hygiene companies, like Proctor and Gamble, Lever Brothers, or their Continental equivalents used their newly-gained prowess in product marketing and supply chain management to shift  behavioural rules of personal cleanliness. Public health, he argues, was significantly boosted as a consequence. I question whether these commercial drivers of health belief and habit are so beneficial today.

In this brief presentation I set some of these changes of context,  method and underlying philosophy and assumptions against the background of two models (out of five considered in my book, Ecological Public Health), these being the Social Behavioural Model and Ecological Public Health. I will examine these approaches in relation to some current dilemmas in public health, one being that of population weight gain and obesity.

About the speaker

Geof Rayner PhD has been an activist, health planner, consultant, academic researcher and teacher since the mid-70s. He has been a consultant to the WHO, European Commission and an expert advisor to the Department of Health, local authorities, the NHS and NGOs. He has worked in universities in both Britain and the USA, ranging from City University of New York to the University of London. He was formerly professor associate at Brunel University and a visiting research fellow at City, University of London.

Suggested background reading

Policy Briefing: The Nudge Business, Discover Society, December 2015

Is nudge an effective public health strategy to tackle obesity? No, BMJ 2011; 342

Ecological Public Health: The 21st century’s big idea? (with Tim Lang), BMJ 2011;342:d2177

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When and where

12.45pm - 2.00pmMonday 30th April 2018

MG26 Myddelton Street Building City, University of London 1 Myddelton Street London EC1R 1UW United Kingdom

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