Humor is an effective way to deliver public health interventions and influence people’s behavior around their health. The corresponding study was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health by pelvic physiotherapist and comedian, Elaine Miller, and researchers from the Monash University in Australia.
“I have seen comedy used to address the most taboo subjects on stage,” said Ms Miller. “My field is incontinence which is often very embarrassing for people to talk about, but because laughter is universal it has the potential to reach people broadly.”
Miller, alongside the researchers, conducted a systematic review of 13 studies investigating the use of humor to communicate public health messages surrounding mental health, breast and testicular cancer self-examination, safe sex, skin cancer, and binge drinking.
In particular, the researchers sought to see how humor-based strategies influenced health attitudes and behaviors, as well as how levels of threat and humor were linked to positive outcomes.
In the end, they found that humor-based health promotion strategies could be useful for increasing awareness and help-seeking behavior for public health priorities, and especially for those that are stigmatized.
“Humour is enjoyable. People are drawn to it – they want to look at it and be part of it,” said Professor Helen Skouteris, lead author of the study.
“Importantly, this review highlighted that humor can be utilized as a tool to encourage conversation and sharing. It’s not just a way to send a message but actually encourages people to talk about it and be open with others, which we believe can lead to influencing society’s perceptions and behaviors around important public health prevention messages," she added.
The researchers say, however, that humorous interventions vary widely as humor cannot be standardized. They also add that further research examining humor and public health promoton is needed to understand how it could be used most effectively.