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Marieke Adriaanse appointed professor of Behavioral Interventions in Population Health Management

What determines healthy behavior and how do you promote healthy choices and routines? These are a few questions currently being addressed by Marieke Adriaanse, recently appointed Professor of Behavioral Intervention in Population Health Management at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC).

Marieke Adriaanse, professor of Behavioral Interventions in Population Health Management (Photo: Suédy Mauricio)

Marieke Adriaanse is partly appointed at the LUMC (two-thirds) and at the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW) (one-third) of Leiden University. With her chair within the living lab of the university’s Population Health interdisciplinary program, located at the Health Campus The Hague, she focuses on understanding human health behavior and designing strategies and interventions for health behavior change.

Joint efforts

Adriaanse is an advocate for Open Science and an alternative approach to recognising and rewarding scientific work: “My ambition is to use team science to have a societal impact, and I am less concerned with how many publications I write and in which journals they get published in”. All the more reason for her to praise the on-going collaborative efforts at the LUMC Campus The Hague.

“At the campus, a fantastic, interdisciplinary group of people are collaborating on the topic of health promotion”, she says. “In the Population Health Living Lab, medical doctors, data scientists, political scientists and behavioral scientists conduct research together. From the LUMC, the program is being led by the Department of Public Health and Primary Care Medicine. From the FWS, it is the Department of Health, Medical and Neuropsychology”. 

Knowledge requires action

Adriaanse sees a clear role for herself at the LUMC Campus The Hague: “A lot of attention is given to the ‘what’ – such as eating healthier, exercising more, getting vaccinated – but very little is payed to the ‘how’ of health promotion. Simply telling someone ‘you must lose weight’ doesn’t work. But what does? What motivates people? And what is needed to translate motivation into behavior? There are additional factors that come into play, such as the environment, habits and impulses. Only by understanding these factors can we make progress in changing health behavior”. For this reason, she is committed to making knowledge concerning behavior and behavior change central element in the LUMC Campus The Hague’s interdisciplinary way of working. “That’s how we’ll come up with better interventions and solutions”.

She explains why these are necessary: “Reducing the health disparities between vulnerable and less vulnerable populations is a major social challenge. So is keeping healthcare affordable in the long run. We won’t solve any of these issues by addressing them solely from the perspective of policymakers, psychologists or doctors. We have to work together in interdisciplinary teams”.

Focusing on caregivers

Adriaanse studies behavior change in citizens and patients, but also extends this research to healthcare professionals. “Healthcare providers are – like all others – ordinary people with habits and impulses and they often have to work under a lot pressure. We need to make behavior change easier for them too. For instance, when we are trying to encourage them to prescribe antibiotics less often”.

Adriaanse is happy that she has been appointed at the FSW and LUMC Campus The Hague. “Because of this exciting interaction between disciplines we can improve both health psychology and healthcare. This offers a great opportunity to further develop and apply behavioral insights in interdisciplinary research. Moreover, it strengthens the collaboration between behavioral scientists and the medics at the LUMC - especially primary care”.

The ‘how’ of healthy behavior has a place in the Population Health Management Master’s degree that will start in September 2021. According to Adriaanse: “the program is a great example of education with an interdisciplinary perspective for professionals and students, which I will gladly contribute to”.

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