Contrary to studies, framing of health messages doesn’t matter

 
By Sheryl Kay • Published: March 14th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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Sometimes it’s not so much what someone says as much as how the person says it, and for years, scientists believed that consumers understood health messages in the same manner.

Better known as framing information, the manner in which messages are worded was long thought to impact consumers’ behaviors and health choices. But now a major study shows otherwise. Conclusions reached by consumers are, in fact, not dependent on how the information was presented.

Published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the study examined more than 30 previously published investigations involving more than 16,000 patients. A host of health behaviors were represented, including decisions on whether to wear sunscreen, practice safe sex with condoms or start a new exercise regimen. The researchers found that while some factors, such as the availability and accessibility of health services, did influence behavior, no connection was found between how a health message was worded and the resulting health behaviors.

Many in the health field were hoping to find the best way to deliver health messages in order make the information more attractive and therefore more palatable to consumers. For example, would it be better to tell someone what they will gain from taking a certain medication or what they will lose from not taking it? This study now shows that the framing of such messages has no effect either way.

The researchers concluded that in the absence of evidence for one type of framing versus the other, those involved with the creation of such messages would do well to present them in a balanced light. This ensures that everyone in the general public can appreciate the significance of the message … for better or for worse.