Yesterday I was privileged to join a webcast unveiling the newest edition of the Edelman Health Barometer. The slides above were from that presentation and conversation.
Edelman Health Barometer:
While this is a huge global study, with over 15 thousand participants, it focuses primarily on the first world countries, those relatively rich in technology and resources, and not even all of those. Findings may be biased in that respect. For example, no one was surveyed from either Africa or Australia, as well as the Middle East. I found the exclusion of entire continents surprising, given their stated goal of ensuring “a global sample that is statistically representative of the general population.” There are other methodological questions. While they say how many people were selected to be surveyed from which country, I could not find any information about inclusion or exclusion criteria, how people were selected for inclusion, if the population surveyed was economically or geographically diverse within the country, or related matters. India is a good example for this (my thanks to Preet Rana for this example), since the recent Maplecroft report on digital inclusion shows India lagging behind Brazil, Russia and China because of pronounced discrepancies within the country itself.
Maplecroft ranking highlighting the ‘digital divide’ reveals India lagging behind Brazil, Russia and China: http://maplecroft.com/about/news/digital_inclusion_index.html
Edelman interviewed 1000 persons in India, but there is no information about whether this included primarily the haves or the havenots, those in metropolitan areas or rural, and regions were represented. I guess I’ve been spoiled by working closely with researchers and using the Pew Internet and American Life reports, which provide detailed methodology information as well as their test instrument. Keeping in mind reservations about the scope and extensibility of the data, this is still a fascinating study.
From what I heard on the conference call, it sounded as if this study is based on self-report and rendered primarily descriptive statistics, as is typical of these large surveys. A study like this can be very informative in shaping research questions to be tackled in ways that may better support conclusions or decision making. They highlighted four specific findings as being of particular interest.
* Some apps actually make a difference in people’s health choices & behaviors
* There is a dramatic range of engagement levels for using new technologies (actionists, followers, participants, traditionalists and offliners)
* Social aspects of a person’s life seem to have an enormous impact on every aspect of health, from behaviors, choices, making change, supporting change, and more.
* “All health is communicable — including, especially, good health. In other words: there are no such things as non-communicable diseases.”
All of these are interesting and relevant both to our lives as individuals as well as to my own professional work in health sciences. These do raise many questions.
There are so many health apps out on the web and for mobile devices. What are the differences between the ones that work and those that don’t? Is it a case of different strokes for different folks? Are there best practices that would make health apps more useful in general, or more useful to target specific populations? Are there ways to build tools for the populations they identified, from actionist through traditional? With social environments having such an enormous impact on health, are their ways to leverage that in positive ways both at work and home? Are there ways we can provide positive yet honest social havens for those who are in dire social environments such as battering, bullying, prejudice, shunning, and others? Are social environments equally important across subgroups, either by technology usage or across specific types of social environments? Do social environments have the same kind of health impact on persons with social anxiety, or who are on the autism spectrum, or who struggle with other kinds of social skills challenges?
“People who are informed and proactive about their health tend to distance themselves from those with unhealthy habits, potentially missing opportunities to spread good health.”
My main concern from the presentation was the prevalence of statements such as the one above. The study raises all these genuinely important questions, but does not seem to provide enough information at this point in time to justify assumptions, such as that healthy behaviors would be more ‘contagious’ than unhealthy behaviors. It is entirely possible that the reverse is true, or that there are other factors that determine when healthy or unhealthy behaviors become more dominant within a social network. While this is a deeply engaging and intriguing study provoking good questions and the need for further study, it isn’t yet at the point of providing information upon which I would base policy decisions. I look forward to more detailed reports hopefully forthcoming.