Harm reduction is a term used by social scientists to describe the population’s growing worries with feeling at-risk for health problems, even when they are healthy.
Medical anthropologist Mark Nichter, regents professor at the University of Arizona, said that living with good health for a much longer period has become far more important to people.
Nichter said people are being inundated with information about their personal health and wellness and have greater access to information about health risks in the environment and the products, food and medications they consume.
The information can tell about one's health now and the prospects of what health might be in the future. Nichter said this could make people feel at risk even when they are not ill, or cause them to feel as though they need to being doing something and taking responsibility.
These doubts are fueling an entire health industry and have led to social scientists creating the term “harm reduction.”
“Harm reduction essentially means that people are trying to minimize the amount of harm or risks that they perceive being exposed to, and they do this with whatever resources they possibly have,” Nichter said.
Examples of this are people who take dietary supplements or vitamins.
“We have a booming dietary supplement and vitamin business in the country, which is growing exponentially,” Nichter said.
Harm reduction, in relation to industry, refers to the way goods are marketed using a harm reduction angle. An example of this is in the “no sodium” and “no fat” foods and products on the market.
“You’ll eat that potato chip that has 20 percent less fat in it, and you’ll feel better about yourself,” Nichter said. “Our market is more inundated with products that are advertised about what they don’t have, as opposed to what they do have."
He said the importance is that the industry is tapping into a market segment and a perceived need.
“You want a sense of urgency that you’re doing something for yourself, even if you can’t do a lot, you’re doing something," he said. "And this industry will supply you with every single product that you can imagine, with a harm reduction version of it."
Ashley Grove is a University of Arizona journalism student and an intern at Arizona Public Media.