Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2019

President’s Message: Climate Change and Gun Violence Feature Prominently in Provocative Questions

Michael Diefenbach, PhD, SBM President

Michael Diefenbach, PhD, SBM president
Michael Diefenbach, PhD
SBM President

Dear Colleagues,

In my last message I sent you off into a summer that was hopefully filled with time for family and needed relaxation. Although it was just three months ago, it feels much longer and I fear the times of “slow summers” are over. During the last few months, we launched our Provocative Questions initiative and I’m grateful to all of you who took the time and responded with ideas for behavioral medicine of the future. We compiled all your responses and are in the process of clustering them into overarching themes. I will talk more about this process and some results in one of my upcoming columns. What I noticed so far, however, is that responses were influenced by present day concerns.

This summer we saw the Amazon and the Alaskan Tundra burning, and with Hurricane season upon us, facts about global warming are becoming inescapable. Not surprisingly, research questions regarding climate change and health topped our list of provocative questions. Members saw climate change as a public health problem and questions ranged from the impact of climate change on human health and the use of behavioral science to address climate change, to the role of behavioral medicine in sustainable development and the role individual behaviors to reduce the overall carbon footprint.

It appears that current events also influenced respondents’ thinking into another area of research. I am talking about gun violence and mass shootings. The tragic truth is that 2019 is on a path to become the deadliest year in terms of mass shootings. As of the time of this writing, we have experienced 295 mass shootings, which are defined as an incident during which more than four people were shot. The statistics are staggering: 10,369 individuals killed, twice the number of injuries (20,723), and 2,610 children and teens injured or killed. I have no words to describe the loss and emotional toll on individuals and their families. Our provocative question responders recognized this and asked how health behavior theory and interventions could be used to reduce gun violence.

I believe as a society that is concerned about behavior and health we are in a unique position to contribute to both the climate and the gun violence debates. The responses to the Provocative Questions initiative demonstrate that members see these topics of utmost importance and worthy of our time and effort. On a personal level, I could not agree more. I challenge you to think about ways behavioral medicine can address these problems, which go beyond advocacy and the compilation of statistics. Connect with colleagues to communicate your thoughts—our SIGs are terrific vehicles for these kind of discussions. If you have pertinent research to present, consider it for submission as a rapid communication poster at the 2020 Annual Meeting.

On the society level, SBM published a policy statement in Translational Behavioral Medicine urging Congress to restore funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support research on gun violence, and although the related amendment has not yet been repealed, it was clarified that the CDC is allowed to conduct gun violence research. Federal funds cannot be used, however, to advocate for gun control measures.

As you conduct your research and teaching activities over the next few months and prepare to attend the Annual Meeting next year, I hope you are thinking about the role of behavioral medicine regarding climate and gun violence issues. I’m looking forward to your comments and your thoughts. And I’m looking forward to sharing information on many of the other Provocative Question topics leading up to and and at the Annual Meeting.

Best wishes for a productive fall,