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Sandhya Shimoga: Exploring How to Motivate People to Improve Health Behaviors

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Sandhya Shimoga

Sandhya Shimoga traces her interest in public health to her upbringing. Shimoga grew up in a small college town in southern India where, as in most of the country, poverty and prosperity exist side by side. As a college undergraduate, Shimoga joined India’s National Service Scheme, a voluntary organization based in colleges. One of her first tasks was to conduct a local household survey on literacy and health. Talking with participants about their health habits and financial struggles proved eye opening. “I saw firsthand how a family’s health is affected by environment, education and income,” says Shimoga. She went on to become a management consultant in India, eventually transferring within the company to the United States. Working with health insurance and hospital industry clients, Shimoga was drawn to the complexities of the U.S. health insurance system and eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management.

“Any global public health policy must include improving literacy in the country. Without that, people are stuck in the lower rungs of socioeconomic status, which affects every aspect of their health.”

Her focus is on behavioral economics: how individual preferences motivate people to practice health behaviors – particularly in low and middle-income countries, where it is still an emerging field of research. As part of her dissertation, Shimoga is examining the impact of Mexico’s conditional cash transfer program, which provides economic incentives for impoverished families to meet certain health behavior goals. She notes that behavioral economics principles could be critical to the success of policies that improve medication adherence for tuberculosis or HIV treatments in low and middle-income countries.

Shimoga hopes to apply her training in ways that can help to address the multitude of health-related problems faced by countries such as Mexico and Shimoga’s native India. “There is a lack of population-level data necessary to formulate effective health policy in lower-income countries,” she says. “This needs to be addressed as an integral part of any global public health policy so that successes and failures can be assessed and corrected in a scientific manner.”

Eventually, Shimoga hopes to study how income inequalities shape health outcomes in low and middle-income countries, an interest piqued during her National Service Scheme work in India. “Any global public health policy must include improving literacy in the country,” Shimoga adds, reflecting on that experience. “Without that, people are stuck in the lower rungs of socioeconomic status, which affects every aspect of their health.”