Production, consumption, health: Doctors' orders

Understanding what makes us likely to follow or ignore medical advice

Production, consumption, health Biology in a societal and environmental context Solution design, implementation and efficacy Politics,governance and ethics of health Complex systems and sustainability Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander health

Why do some people follow their doctor’s instructions to the letter, while others ignore medical advice and continue to engage in unhealthy behaviours? Is it a question of education, culture or socioeconomic status? Does age or gender come into it? Or is it the result of poor communication? And is it a ‘failing’ of the patient or of the doctor?

A new research group established by the Charles Perkins Centre will bring together academics from diverse disciplines in a unique effort to collaboratively investigate this important issue and its implications for health, illness and disease.

We don’t have an adequate understanding of why people make the choices they do as they go about their everyday lives. Governments and health professionals spend a great deal of time and money trying to persuade people to follow or avoid certain practices in the interests of avoiding ‘lifestyle’ diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular. People with existing conditions are also urged to engage in self-care routines such as monitoring and attending treatment programs. Yet only some people comply.

The reasons why some people take up this advice and others do not are related to complex systems of meaning, habit, culture, identity and emotion, as well as socioeconomic factors, according to group leaders Professors Deborah Lupton and Elspeth Probyn. For this reason, the group will include researchers from the fields of anthropology, business, cultural and gender studies, media and communication, medicine and public health and sociology. Together they will investigate the contexts, knowledge and practices associated with different health-related behaviours.

The group’s ultimate aim is to inform political, medical and media policies and practices that will more effectively encourage people to engage in healthy behaviours – resulting in fewer people developing diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The project leaders

Professor Elspeth Probyn

Professor Elspeth Probyn has taught media studies, sociology, and literature in Canada and the US, and is now the Professor of Gender & Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. She has held several prestigious visiting appointments, including the Mellon Distinguished Scholar, The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Honorary Professor, Albert Schweitzer International University, Geneva, and Visiting Scholar at the Rockefeller Bellagio Centre. In 2002 she was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and in 2011 she was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. She serves on the editorial boards of seventeen international journals across the fields of geography, cultural theory, media, cultural and gender studies, and the sociology of agriculture