Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
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The Cancer SIG welcomes you to Philadelphia

Gozde Ozakinci, PhD, Cancer SIG Outlook Liaison
Michael A. Diefenbach, PhD, Cancer SIG Chair

The Cancer SIG is looking forward to the 35th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia! The program will include many important sessions spanning the entire length of the conference such as workshops, symposia, roundtables and midday meetings.  Here is a brief round-up of the sessions that are sponsored by the Cancer SIG:  Wed, April 23, 2014, Course 201: Cancer SIG Mock Grant Review; Course 701: Cancer SIG and American Psychosocial Oncology Society Course: Palliative and End of Life Care: Research and Clinical Perspectives. Thursday, April 24, 2014, Symposium 11: Religion, Spirituality and Health Outcomes in Cancer: Three Meta-Analyses. Friday, April 25, 2014, Breakfast Roundtable: Cancer SIG Business Meeting; Symposium 32: Behavioral Medicine Interventions and Outcomes in Pediatric Cancer Survivorship; Midday Meeting: Cocharane Collaboration Informational Session with Kay Dickersin, PhD; Midday Meeting: Cancer Sig and Health Decision Making SIG presents: Education & Decision Aids to Advance Health: A showcase of the Latest Software. In addition, please attend the poster sessions on each day that feature many cancer-relevant presentations as well as the SBM business meeting on Saturday morning.

My colleague Gozde Ozakinci, PhD, wants to take this opportunity to highlight a recent development that fits the theme of this Annual Meeting: ‘Behavior matters’. Some of you will be aware that in 2010, the UK Government set up The Behavioural Insights Team (commonly referred to as the ‘Nudge Unit’). The remit of the Team is applying research in social and behavioral sciences to ‘find innovative ways of encouraging, enabling and supporting people to make better choices for themselves’ (1). The team is comprised of 13 members with academic research background in behavioral sciences, experimental methodology, policy making, and marketing and led by Dr David Halpern who has a psychology background.

It is worth noting that the first discussion paper of the Team which came out at the end of 2010 was on applying behavioral insights to health (2). It highlights seven case studies using the MINDSPACE framework (3) including smoking, physical activity, and alcohol use - all health behaviors related to cancer. It is too soon to tell whether this Team’s efforts will be successful in changing the behaviors of UK citizens. Scotland, on the other hand, is already using the principles of nudging by introducing alcohol minimum pricing to tackle alcohol related public health issues (4). The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act that was passed in June 2012 sets a minimum 50 pence (approximately .82 cents) for a unit of alcohol meaning that the more alcohol a drink contains, the more expensive it will be.

And now, the Nudge Unit will have an equivalent in the US Government! Maya Shankar, PhD, (Psychology) will lead a small group of scientists to lead a similar Unit in the US Government (5).  It seems like there are emerging opportunities for behavioral scientists to make an impact in health policies. According to Decision Science News, the Team will be staffed by 4-5 experts in behavioral science, experimental design and evaluation to build federal capacity to scale evidence-based behavioral interventions. 

What all this will mean for those of us who work in the domain of developing interventions to encourage cancer preventative behaviors is still unknown. But the increasing recognition of behavioral sciences in affecting health behavior change is a sign of progress.

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/behavioural-insights-team
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/applying-behavioural-insight-to-health-behavioural-insights-team-paper
  3. http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/MINDSPACE-Practical-guide-final-Web_1.pdf
  4. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/Services/Alcohol/minimum-pricing
  5. http://www.decisionsciencenews.com/2013/07/15/u-s-behavioral-insights-team/