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Stealth equals health

It’s a conundrum for the ages: We all know that we’d be better off if we ate healthy food and exercised regularly. And yet we inevitably find ourselves sitting in front of the TV with a burger in one hand and a large soda in the other.

Health professionals have spent decades trying to find more effective ways to convince us to improve our health habits. But Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, at Stanford’s School of Medicine thinks he’s found a secret weapon: Instead of focusing on the personal benefits associated with a healthy diet, find social causes that people are excited about and that result in a healthier lifestyle as a side effect.

Robinson, a professor of pediatrics and of medicine, observed that many people will make large, sustained changes in their lives if they believe it serves a greater good. “A commitment to larger belief system seems to be more compelling than personal health reasons for changing behavior.”

He tested his approach by studying Stanford undergraduates who took a “Food and Society” course the researchers taught during the winter of 2009. The course focused on food-related social and environmental issues, rather than the health or nutritional aspects of food and eating.

By the end of the course, Robinson and his colleagues found that students were eating better by the end of the quarter than they were at the beginning. More details about the study and the “stealth” approach can be found in this news release.

So, if you’re struggling with diet and exercise issues, maybe the answer is to focus on an issue like curbing the effects of global warming. If you walk instead of drive, and eat locally grown produce instead of processed food that’s been transported across the country, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint - and also your waistline.

Sounds like a win-win situation.

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