It’s often quoted that, as an overall influence on health, medicine only counts for about 15-20%; the vast majority of influences on a population’s health are behavior and environment. And specifically examining the behavioral component, there’s lots of ways to try to change peoples’ behaviors. Educate them, train them, bargain with them, or scare them.
Assuming, of course, that people can be scared by certain things (death, a miserable future, a huge financial impact), fear can work. There are the Scared Straight programs that try to show at-risk teens the consequences of breaking the law, which are pretty popular on Maury Povich and Ricky Lake. There are the anti-drug advertisements (This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.). There are Canadian cigarette warnings with graphic pictures of the consequences of smoking, which, I might add, have been pretty effective. And then there’s the story of Jacqui Saburido.
It gets graphic from this point on, and I’d normally advise people not to click on the forthcoming links, but if they end up haunting you enough to keep you from ever driving drunk, then they’ve done their job. I read about this story about a year ago on Metafilter, and a recent post reminded me of them. Ms. Saburido’s car was struck by a drunken 18-year-old back in September of 1999; the car caught fire, Jacqui still stuck in the car, and was burned over 60% of her body. As part of a Texas Department of Transportation drunk driving campaign, she was photographed to try to show the public the very real consequences of drunk driving. An NPR story from last year tells some of the story, and most graphically, a recent site popped up showing even more into Jacqui’s ordeal.
I don’t think fear is the most optimal of tactics for all issues, but in some of the more serious ones like drunk driving, I think it’s sometimes the only message that makes people listen.