Beware: Health Warnings

Speaking of self-fulfilling prophecies, which we often are, Stu has a feature in today’s FT magazine about the negative impacts on our health of precautionary health advice:

Worried Sick
What if health warnings could make us ill? Actually, they can – it’s called the “nocebo effect” and there’s a lot of it about

It’s mostly about medical advice, but it also touches on how encouraging negative expectations about the state of the planet can be asking for trouble:

Even non-specific worries about the state of the world in general can be enough to make us ill, according to research from the University of Auckland. Prior to a huge pesticide-spraying programme in New Zealand, people were asked about their attitudes towards new technologies and environmental threats. After the spraying, those who were most concerned about the health risks reported the greatest number of symptoms.

There’s an online version here.

Of course, in the case of environmentalism, the self-fulfilling prophecy is mediated more by politics than physiology – environmental politics creates conditions that leave us more vulnerable to environmental problems. Both, however, are responses to the same institutionalised, precautionary fear-mongering.