Abstract: “Do you Remember what it was About?” A Taxonomy of Messages about Healthy Behaviors Recalled by Adults in Chile

◆ Macarena Pena-y-Lillo, Universidad Diego Portales

Exposure to health information plays a key role in the adoption and maintenance of behaviors that prevent severe chronic conditions, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. In the field of health communication, the role of information acquisition has been widely studied mainly through quantitative and survey-based research. Even though these studies have found that information exposure significantly influences the practice of certain health behaviors, these effects are rather small. One plausible explanation for those findings is that the measures of health information exposure used by the vast majority of these studies are limited in that they fail to capture the specific contents individuals are exposed to. Considering the wide variety of messages about a given behavior individuals might receive from a diverse range of sources, it is expected different messages to have different associations with behavioral adoption and/or maintenance. In this study, we present a qualitative exploration of the contents individuals recall receiving about four health behaviors: Physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, weight loss, and smoking.
Thirty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with adults 25 years and older who live in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Participants for this study were recruited through a local research firm. Age and socioeconomic status quotes were set to maximize sample diversity. The semi-structured interview guide comprised questions about everyday media consumption, access to general health information, and access to specific information about the four health behaviors addressed in this project. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed with Atlas.ti 8.
The messages about the four health behaviors individuals recalled can be grouped into three categories: Information about risks and benefits associated with the behavior, practical information, and prescriptions. The latter category refers to instances in which individuals receive messages, usually from health professionals, that make them feel mandated to engage in the behavior.
Participants recall receiving positive messages about the behaviors (i.e. benefits), but also negative messages (i.e.risks or unwanted consequences of adopting the behaviors). Whereas the former work as motivators for behavioral change, the latter are used to justify the non-adoption of the behaviors. This is particularly salient in the case of fruit and vegetable consumption. Finally, across all behaviors, participants mentioned having been exposed to practical information, such as specific recommendations or tips for carrying out the behavior. This type of information is primarily obtained through information seeking, and especially salient among participants who are currently engaged in the behavior.
This qualitative study sheds light on the content of health messages people recall having been exposed to. Even though many of the messages individuals recall tend to be functional for behavioral adoption and/or maintenance, people also receive negative messages that might undermine their willingness to adopt or maintain healthy behaviors. This taxonomy of messages about healthy behaviors might be a good starting point for a more nuanced measure of health information exposure that could capture the types of messages individuals are exposed to about specific behaviors and the degree to which each type of message is associated with its practice.