Our expert answers 3 Questions
I am a behavioral sustainability and health-messaging researcher and Director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center. I develop health-related interventions to foster motivation and self-regulation processes and conduct translational research within both community-based and healthcare settings. For twenty years, I have been thinking about ways to integrate decision-making, motivation, and persuasion science with principles from marketing to make health-related behaviors more relevant and compelling to individuals. In general, my work investigates how we can more strategically communicate about and change health behavior so people will consistently prioritize healthy choices within their many other competing daily roles and goals. My research questions are very pragmatic because I have also had a private health coaching practice and have been promoting healthy lifestyles to consumers for many years. My research is funded by the CDC and NIH, and I collaborate with colleagues across the U-M Health System (and other areas) to design new types of messaging, counseling protocols, and decision tools to improve adherence to health-related behaviors and outcomes. I’ve become very involved with the promotion of physical activity on a national policy level: I have counseled the CDC on messaging as they prepare for the upcoming Surgeon General’s Walking Call-to-Action (2015), and also chair the U. S. National Physical Activity Plan’s Communications Committee, charged with advising the Plan on more persuasive messaging for the American people and policymakers. For an alternative science-based paradigm to make healthy lifestyles more compelling to prioritize and sustain, you can read a commentary that I co-authored in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine called “Prescribing Pleasure and Meaning."
In 1994 while conducting research I discovered a problem that shocked me but also ignited my passion to solve it: Our cancer study participants knew that regular exercise had benefited their health; nevertheless, most discontinued exercising when their commitment to our study ended. That discovery lead me to dedicate my career to understand why people don’t stick with health-related behaviors (physical activity, sleep, eating changes, etc.) despite their best intentions and desire to do so. In order to investigate how health-related interventions can be most effective, I also study the subtle ways in which men and women’s unique gender roles and pressures influence their self-care decision. I really enjoy the creative problem solving needed to develop new motivation/behavioral solutions for distinct types of delivery mechanisms, issues, illnesses, populations, and settings.
My interdisciplinary work has very practical implications for interventions to improve behavioral sustainability. It identifies the salient issues and messages that transform health-related behaviors from “shoulds” into personally meaningful behaviors; one’s that revitalize people and help them better enjoy and succeed at what matters most. The insights from my work can be translated into more persuasive messages, algorithms, and protocols, and inform more systematic practices and policies that support patient activation and behavioral sustainability. They can also be used to create more strategic “cultures of health” that can link between clinic, organizational, and community settings.