Norms convey community standards for acceptable and desirable behavior
A generation ago in the United States, the norm was to put an infant on someone's lap or in the back seat of the car while driving. Today, public policies—supported by solid data, effective education, and modified practices at institutions such as hospitals and preschools—have shaped a new norm for child passenger safety, which has contributed to saving numerous lives and reducing injury severity for infants and toddlers. This new norm encourages positive behavior, reinforces a proven prevention strategy, and results in better health outcomes. Policy was the tipping factor for changing the norm.
Shifts in norms around tobacco use, driving under the influence, recycling, and reduction in lead exposure confirm that altering norms is effective in improving well-being and can be accomplished relatively quickly: many of these norms-changes have taken place over a generation or less. Since norms can vary across cultural, racial/ethnic, income and other divides, delving into health inequities entails skillful action to create a norms shift toward equitable health and safety outcomes. Prevention advocates can alter policies, institutional practices, and physical environments to catalyze norms change.
In the case of lead, policies to eliminate it from gasoline and paint were enacted to prevent lead-induced neurological damage, which was affecting all children and causing particular harm to nutritionally at-risk kids, who were even more vulnerable to this poisoning. After decades of using lead-laden paint and gasoline, lead-free alternatives became the new corporate and public norm and using the old toxic products became seemingly "unthinkable." Now that lead-free alternatives have become the new norm, it's important to focus on remaining disparities in lead levels within vulnerable populations and to find ways to close that health equity gap.