Posts Tagged media

Killer celery=4 deaths while car crashes=~20,000

So if tainted celery is worthy of attention on CNN home page as soon as news of these deaths is released, what does it take to get that attention for 20,000 deaths within 8 months?

Why isn’t public attention about the cause of 20,000 deaths on every media outlet, all the time? Where is the demand to prevent this? (We have pretty good idea actually, will discuss in future post.)

We don’t accept 4 deaths from a food source. Nor should we. Business operations are shut down when this happens. The source of the fatalities is destroyed, pulled from shelves and eradicated, immediately, as much as possible.

In contrast, we passively accept 20,000 deaths from another source of fatalities. Not only do we not demand preventive action, effective prevention is actively thwarted by some beliefs and behaviors.

While France is currently rioting enough to disrupt a country’s operations over a 2 years’ delay to retirement benefits (not that I agree with that uproar, I’m just making a connection), I ask you to consider this contrast that boggles my mind…

We don’t accept 4 deaths from celery, but we accept 30,000+ deaths a year from car crashes in the U.S.

That’s unacceptable to accept, but U.S. society does and that’s a culture to change.


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Is this driver really the only one responsible for his problem?

It was a murder mystery. That’s how New York Times journalist Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his reporting on cell phones and distracted driving, described the series of articles. After reading his writings for over a year, we heard him speak and share background stories about the special series at a conference this week.

This murder mystery angle got me thinking about public health and injustice and personal responsibility. In public health we usually seek to reduce and erase injustices. However so many issues, such as car crashes, are incorrectly pegged as issues of only personal responsibility.

Matt’s investigation into how a fatal crash involving texting happened took him decades into the past when cell phones were first created as car phones. Then he traced a path through industry and government decisions to the present, where we now lose thousands of people a year in crashes involving cell phones. He showed how distracted driving could be a true public health issue of injustice.

For those who think the issue is only one of personal responsibility, you need to trace what led to people’s personal decisions about using cell phones in vehicles.

Cartoon from National Safety Council

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How to reach a whole country like the conversation about cell phones & driving

I’m watching the 2nd USDOT Distracted Driving Summit online today. Reflecting on the past year.  Sharing a recipe on how to make a sweeping national difference — quickly — on a public health issue. It’s possible.

This recipe has been cookin’ to change national beliefs and behavior about using cell phones while driving:

  • The backing of a very high level government official — in this case, a member of the President’s Cabinet, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
  • Not only have the “backing” of a very high level government official — he or she should publicly “go on a rampage” about your issue, as Secretary LaHood often describes his mission. He is on a rampage to stop crashes and deaths due to distracted driving.
  • The government official should have a very public presence and excellent communication skills.
  • The government official should be in a position to influence change in federal regulation. As announced at the Distracted Driving Summit today, truck drivers must follow a USDOT regulation limiting their cell phone use.
  • Federal financial resources must be allocated to fund proven effective behavior change strategies.
  • Encourage people affected by your issue to start a national advocacy organization so the public hears their stories. They are also powerful advocates when lobbying legislators and others for change.
  • Recruit relevant nationally-recognized organizations to see their vested interest in your issue. Changing the issue should be among their core goals. Organizations that are good at getting others to listen, that are good at getting media attention, are best.
  • The relevant nationally-recognized organizations will help move change faster if they are well-connected in all sectors of politics, business, media.
  • When the above support is vocal, the media will report on what these organizations and people are talking about. And media drives more media like a snowball down a mountain. Watch it roll!
  • Reach out to public and private employers who can change their employees’ environment for the better. People working full-time spend most of their waking hours at work. The workplace has a huge influence on social norms. Team up with organizations that specialize in reaching employers. And as those working in public health know, influencing employer policies can make sweeping change.
  • Share compelling data about the impact of your issue. I work on traffic safety and there’s (unfortunately) no shortage of compelling data about the toll of crashes. Leverage the data.
  • If your issue can be addressed with state laws, develop a prioritized plan to advocate. There are 50 states. You won’t be able to work in all. If your issue is rolling, the public is talking, and it’s likely state legislators are already taking action in response to the public desire. This angle is worthy of a whole blog on its own so I won’t get in detail beyond listing it as very important for change.
  • Fully use all online communications available today — blogs, Twitter, Facebook, online webcasts. I mean, fully. What does this mean? Watch for a post later with an example. 

This may look overwhelming. But it’s possible. Those of us in public health know population-level change is not easy and this is what it takes. Think Thanksgiving Dinner cooking, not frozen food in the microwave.

I show a pizza recipe above because I think of public health change like a pizza — many ingredients are needed to bring change: education, social norms, policy, enforcement, technology, physical environment, etc.

This change has happened for many issues and it’s happening right now for cell phones and driving. I’m thankful to work in the middle of it, to see how these ingredients all work to influence massive change. It’s possible!

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We worry about keeping kids safe from the wrong dangers

Great article from the NY Times: Keeping Kids Safe From the Wrong Dangers, which discusses how people buy organic vegetables to reduce their risk of serious or fatal chronic disease, yet while driving home from shopping trips they check email on their cell phone at red lights. The perception of risk is a little whacked.

More evidence of misperception of biggest risks shared in the article: The five things most likely to cause injury up until age 18, according to the CDC, are car crashes, homicide (usually not by a stranger), child abuse, suicide and drowning. But the five things parents worry about most are kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic.

We tend to overestimate the rare dangers — encouraged somewhat by what the media deems newsworthy — and we underestimate the dangers we should be thinking about.

Did you know: 

  • Car crashes are the #1 cause of death from age 3 to 34.
  • They’re the #1 cause of workplace death.
  • Most car crashes occur within a few miles of home.

So why do we worry about terrorists more than car crashes? The book Innumeracy by John Allan Paulos is an easy and enjoyable explanation of one reason why.

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