There’s all sorts of evidence that drinking raw milk is dangerous. You can get salmonella or listeria from it–just ask the CDC–and on a simple, practical level, it’s more expensive and harder to find.
Yet there are quite a few people who believe it’s better for them than pasteurized milk. Where these beliefs come from isn’t terribly clear, though those of us in health communications know viral marketing (not literally, of course) via social networks and the occasional misinformed celebrity who appears on a talk show can do damage that a long-term campaign takes years to undo. Just look at how tough it continues to be to convince people that vaccines don’t cause autism.
Still, despite the facts, some people cling to beliefs they’ve picked up from questionable sources about health issues. A journal called Food Protection Trends has just published a study that shows people who drink raw milk are “well-educated,” and believe they’re helping support local farms and getting a healthier drink that is more “digestible” than pasteurized milk. Where do beliefs like this come from, and how do we as health communicators fight the wrong-headed ideas that get disseminated via email, Facebook and Twitter as realities?
What’s most disappointing about the study from University of Michigan researchers that was published in Food Protection Trends is that it showed only 7.1 percent of the 56 raw-milk consumers who responded to the study’s questionnaire agreed with a statement that “in general, they trusted recommendations made by state health officials about what foods are safe to eat.” So when the authorities say, “Hey, don’t drink that–it’s bad for you!” the very people they’re trying to reach don’t believe what they say.
What does this mean for health communication campaigns run by government agencies?