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Supermarkets go to great lengths to understand us, predict our shopping behaviours, and, if they can, influence how we shop. To do this successfully, they use many forms of research, especially techniques that let them describe how we view the world, and what our attitudes and values are. Marketing people are then able to categorise us into useful “segments”, which they claim allows them to increase their market share. It is interesting to see what the marketers make of this information (predicting where we shop, what we spend and what we buy). But it obviously works, judging by how much interest the supermarkets take in this approach.

Health promoters are now taking an interest in this thinking. We have been able, for example, to classify people into similar health and lifestyle related groups, and are using the information to plan health promotion campaigns in the future. In relation to cancer prevention, which group are you in?

Health Achievers: highly motivated, perhaps to the point of being over achievers. They exercise, try to eat right, and learn as much as they can about what is healthy and what is not. Yet, despite their seemingly model health behaviour, they fail to meet their own expectations. They seem to set impossibly high standards compared to other groups.

Naive Optimists: optimistic, self-involved, and complacent toward their health. They seem confident about their health, and so they think they don't need to worry, seek out information, or make any effort to stay healthy. So they tend to be quite resistant to change, particularly if the suggestion comes from someone they perceive as unlike themselves. Like the Health Achievers, they are a relatively young group.

Vulnerable Procrastinators: the oldest group, are characterized by their extreme feelings of vulnerability to cancer, lack of confidence in their overall health, and external pressure to remain well. Although they obviously worry about their health and that of family members, they take few steps to optimise it. Vulnerable Procrastinators are more likely than other groups to say they are putting off changes to improve their health. Perhaps because of their personal and family health experiences, they seem to feel illness is inevitable. They seem to rely somewhat more heavily than other groups on their doctors for information.

Isolated and Confused: not integrated into traditional medical services, and they display a plethora of misinformation when it comes to cancer and health. However, they seem very willing to make health-related- changes. Compared to most other groups, the socio-economic status of this middle-aged group is quite low.

Recalcitrants: health does not seem to be a priority with this middle-aged group. Though they know they should be concerned about it, Recalcitrants think they are too busy with other things. The most cancer-fatalistic group, they are not as willing as other groups to make health-related changes, and they don't attend to health information.

Receptives: a somewhat paradoxical group. Compared to other groups, they rate their health knowledge low, they aren't particularly attentive to health information, and they are the most un-pressured about staying well. Yet members of this middle-aged group engage in a fair number of healthy behaviours, are receptive to messages from a variety of sources, and appear willing to change their health behaviours.

What are we going to do with this information? Hopefully target more appropriate messages to the groups we think need to modify how they live their lives. See if you can spot this approach in the future. And do you see it making a difference? A note of caution, though. Aren’t we all a bit tired of attempts to manipulate us, first as we shop, and now in our lifestyles. Is nothing sacred?

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