Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sign of the times

So I'm mired in traffic at Five Corners around 7:00 a.m. this morning, and I spy this billboard in my field of view:
FM 518 WB at FM 270.
I'm not a doctor.  I'm not a medical practitioner of any kind.  I don't represent any medical institution.  But I'm sorry - I personally do not agree with either the sign or the sentiment that it conveys.  In my observation and opinion, good health does not begin with primary care - it begins with healthy lifestyle, of which the main components are diet and exercise.

And you may be thinking, "Oh, good grief - it's just a marketing slogan - why do you care?!"

I care because human beings are exquisitely sensitive to environmental cues and messaging.  Exquisitely sensitive.  A year and a half ago, I wrote a post that discusses at length the "broken windows" theory of criminological behavior, which asserts that signalling has a dramatic effect on behavior. 

By analogy, I also postulated that environmental signalling  might be the reason why Walnut Pointe has a higher historical incidence of petty crime than any other street in Centerpointe.  Walnut Pointe is usually littered with un-garaged cars.  This jumble of jalopies signals would-be thieves that the area is ripe for the imposition of additional disorder.  By making itself into a physical path of most resistance (clogging up the street and sidewalks), Walnut Pointe made itself into an existential path of least resistance (for crime).

This is just a theory, of course.  But it's one that has precedence. 

That UTMB billboard above sends a signal that, in my opinion, is dis-empowering.   All the "primary care" in the world is not going to help the person who doesn't take responsibility for their own health by engaging in appropriate self-supportive behaviors.  Healthy diet.  Daily exercise.  No harmful levels of alcohol or recreational drugs.  No smoking.  The billboard doesn't promote those kinds of things, with primary care being the obvious incrementally-empowering adjunct.  Instead, it shows a woman with submissive body language clinging to the telephone instead of reaching for her own internal resourcefulness and self-discipline and then counting the telephone connection to her doctor as just one of a collection of health-promoting tools available to her. 

That segment of FM 518 handles about 30,000 vehicle transits a day.
Or at least it did as of 2004, per this H-GAC reference.  It would not surprise me if it's higher now.
Is it in the public interest to have that kind of message seen by that many people every day?  Absorbed through the corner of the eye like subliminal advertising?  Or absorbed straight-up consciously, as it was with me?

It's just an isolated example of a little thing, yes.  But when you start adding up all of the "little things" that characterize our society, my bet is that there can be some big impacts derive from the antagonistic sum total.  And then from there, who knows what bizarre things might result.  Maybe even a 36% national obesity rate

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