Behavioral Medicine Approaches to Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

By Kristina Orth-Gomér; Neil Schneiderman | Go to book overview

Chapter 17
Healthy Public Policy: Getting Governments Onside

Michael O'Connor International Organisation of Consumers Unions

Scientists often complain about governments failing to give due prominence to the former's discoveries when forming public policy. Yet it is not true that governments are blind to science. Governments do what suits their ideological bias or what they are pressed to do, and that includes their attitudes toward science and technology. Indeed, science itself is not apolitical. Therefore, scientists, especially those whose work is not in favor with government, sometimes decide that they have to take part in the political arena if they want their work to lead to some practical result. Nowhere is this more true than for the effects of psychosocial factors on health. The essence of this important research has major implications for public and commercial policy -- from the way jobs are designed to how social welfare systems work.

In this chapter, public policy means the policies of governments -- international, national, regional, and local -- which impact on the public. As such, they are subject to change by democratic processes. The author has spent some years working on turning the discoveries of science into public policy. It may be a darker art than the pursuit of truth, but it is one we ignore at our peril. If we cannot get governments "onside" (i.e., on our side), if we cannot get them to support healthy public policy, then all our scientific work may be wasted, gathering dust on library shelves. More to the point, the public will suffer needlessly.

There are two points, however, that should be borne in mind when interpreting this chapter. First, the precise methods one uses to persuade governments to adopt healthy public policy vary widely from country to country. For example, what works well in the United States may be totally inappropriate in Japan.

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