and Free Expression
Public health authorities recognize behavior as an important determinant of health in the community. This idea is reflected mostly in modern discourse about the roles of smoking, diet, and sedentary lifestyle in the development of chronic disease, but the influence of behavior in transmitting infection (e. g., sexual or needle-sharing behavior) or causing injury (e. g., automobiles and firearms) is also well recognized. Researchers seek to identify effective techniques for changing people's behavior to achieve reductions in chronic and infectious diseases, as well as injuries. Public health assessments and interventions occur at the point of human conduct, whether at the individual, group, or organizational level.
Human behavior is highly complex, influenced by numerous social and environmental factors (Institute of Medicine 2001), but information is a prerequisite for change. The population must at least be aware of the health consequences of risk behaviors to make informed decisions. The citizenry is inundated with messages about health and behavior by the media, businesses, religious and charitable organizations, family, and peers. Perhaps the most important goal of health promotion is to alter the informational environment so that the public can hear messages conducive to their health and avoid messages that encourage risk behavior.
As Figure 14 suggests, public health authorities have many tools at their disposal to construct a favorable informational environment, even though, in practice, they may not be particularly adept or successful. Government can add its voice to the marketplace of ideas by delivering