Health Imaging

A picture is worth a thousand… lives?!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

A smoker’s black lung. A chronic sun tanners aged skin. Scared yet??

Health agencies have pushed these frightening visuals on us for YEARS. But do they REALLY convince us to change our ways?

Enter Gareth Hollands and colleagues from Cambridge University. 

They analyzed 21 studies with nearly ten thousand participants total, with varying medical concerns. The patients received medical advice either with or without visual aids. Some were shown images from their own procedures, such as ultrasounds and x-rays. Then, the studies reported whether this caused patients to change unhealthy habits. 

And? The Cambridge team found that scaring people straight with frightening images DID motivate healthier behavior! This included reduced smoking, better hygiene and increased physical activity. Some studies showed that after seeing the damage, people were up to THREE TIMES more likely to change their behaviors! 

Doctors can diagnose diseases – but they can’t force patients to make lifestyle changes.. The researchers believe visual aids may be the motivation needed!

Now picture that!

Reference: Hollands, G. J., Usher-Smith, J. A., Hasan, R., Alexander, F., Clarke, N., & Griffin, S. J. (2022). Visualising health risks with medical imaging for changing recipients’ health behaviours and risk factors: Systematic review with meta-analysis. PLoS Medicine, 19(3), e1003920.