Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fearing What We Don't Know

One of the stories on NPR's All Things Considered today had this headline:

A new poll shows Ebola is the one of the top health concerns of Americans, below access to health care and affordable health care.
It ranks third, to be exact, according to the story, behind access to health care and the cost of health care. Then, dropping down behind Ebola as a top health concern- cancer and obesity. My first reaction was one of utter amazement. A disease that has infected exactly two people in the United States is a top health concern. Two people, both of whom are now healthy.

My second reaction was the title of this post. Ebola is scary because it is new and quite unknown. We have learned to live in denial about the major health concerns in the country- cancer, heart disease, obesity. We have learned to completely ignore alcoholism and addiction as health crises and place them as legal issues.

Anything to keep from having to deal with the health implications. Denial is a fine thing.

Well, the story went on to posit one other thought that didn't come immediately to mind, namely what happens when people are given open-ended questions like this one. What is the biggest health concern facing the US today? No choices to make,  just think about it and what comes to mind?

As the researcher said, when we are given that question, we are more affected by what is making the news today than what might be the real and most significant health concern. Guess what? Name the big health care stories of the past few weeks.
  •  The Affordable Care Act (access to and cost of health care) and
  • the Ebola concerns.
So people bring to mind what is most recent in their awareness. If they had been given a list to choose from, the answers might have been different; people might have been prompted to think about the overall impact of cancer, obesity and heart disease. But I have a hunch that Ebola would have still been up there. It is part of our human nature to most fear what we don't understand or what is new and/or strange to us.

A helluva way to run public policy, though. But it is where we are today.

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