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Dean Lloyd Minor calls attention to environmental factors shaping health

If you live close to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor (like I do), then you're more likely to indulge than if, say, you live near a produce store. That's a no-brainer.

But a variety of more complex factors influence our health — and our choices. Understanding how these environmental forces shape the health of each individual is a component of precision health, and a topic that researchers at Stanford Medicine are probing to improve the health of us all.

In a recent essay for The Experts, a Wall Street Journal online series, Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, highlights the work of Stanford public health researcher Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD. Basu has led a series of studies examining the factors that affect the health of those who are most vulnerable, including people who receive public assistance to purchase food.

One of these studies found that when the Peruvian government switched from twice-monthly to monthly assistance payments, purchases of goods such as cigarettes, unhealthy snacks and alcohol soared among some farmers who received government support.

Minor explains:

Dr. Basu and his team suggest two behavioral issues are likely to blame for this pattern. First, people tend to make larger discretionary purchases when they get paid. Second, people are more likely to binge on temptation goods when the time between payments is longer, because they’ve gone without those goods for a longer period.

Basu is also working to figure out other ways governments and large organizations can tailor policies to promote healthful choices. That work is crucially important to the future of health care, Minor writes:

...studies like the one conducted by Dr. Basu and his team are critical for those of us fighting for a new vision of health care that is more preventive, predictive and precise. The more we learn about the factors that drive unhealthy behaviors, the more we can do to  encourage healthy choices and realize a future of patient care that is lower cost, less invasive and more cognizant of the patient as a unique individual.

Previously: Precision policy: Bringing out the best health behaviors with targeted programsPrecision health aims to reach everyoneStanford's Sanjay Basu: A career dedicated to the social determinants of health and Stanford physician Sanjay Basu on using data to prevent chronic disease in the developing world
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