Month: June 2012

That’s A Mighty Fine Lookin’ Burger!

I’ve heard before about the tricks food companies use to make their food look very appetizing on TV. This article lists several of the tricks used: cotton balls, motor oil, and hairspray among others. This week, I came across an official video from McDonald’s (see below) revealing the hard work that goes into prepping their burgers for prime-time. For comparison’s sake, they have a before and after, with the before being a standard burger bought at an actual McDonald’s restaurant. The burger is created by a food stylist (who know that was an actual job?). He uses syringes full of ketchup, blowtorches to fine tune the details. And like all pretty models posing for pretty pictures, the burger’s unsightly flaws are then Photoshopped to make it more appealing.

The video didn’t surprise me, but I did find it interesting how much work goes into making a McDonald’s cheeseburger look appetizing. Now’s the point where I’d offer a standard, “What can public health communicators take away from this practice?” but there’s nothing to take away because healthy food looks naturally appealing. I think it says something that you need a camera crew to make a McDonald’s cheeseburger look appetizing, but next to no work to make fruits and vegetables look appealing. And fresh produce photographs beautifully.

Photo courtesy of lockstockb

App store icon image

There’s an app for that…but it isn’t FDA-approved

We’ve posted here repeatedly about the technological revolution and its impact on health and healthcare (not to mention health communication); see here, and here, and here for starters.

But hot on the heels of Health Datapalooza comes word from the Kaiser Family Foundation that the FDA is growing alarmed at the exponential growth of the health app field.  They’ve proposed guidelines for the creation and agency approval of those apps, and the developers who like to come up with new ways you can use your smartphone that will help them make money are protesting the proposal.

“The FDA’s current regulatory process was created when the floppy disk was around” — ancient history in the tech world, warns Joel White, executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition, which includes the computer chip maker Intel, pharmacy benefit manager Medco, Verizon, Aetna and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The final guidelines from the FDA are expected before the end of 2012.  Some app developers have already decided not to fight city hall (as it were) and filed applications for app approval (sorry, had to indulge in a little alliteration there).

One concern the Kaiser story doesn’t bring up that seems important: HIPAA privacy issues.  Any app that you use on a smartphone–into which you plug your own personal health data–could potentially share that data with an entity that might not be terribly concerned about medical privacy.  Do you really want, say, Facebook to know what drugs you take and whether you have a fungal infection?

two people playing a video game

Play to see better

I love this stuff–playing video games is good for you!  Or good for your vision, anyway, if you have lazy eye.  In the official journal of the American Academy of Optometry, a study’s been published showing that amblyopia can be treated in adults (which thinking is, in itself, somewhat new compared to the long-held idea that lazy eye could only be corrected if caught when a person is still a child), and that certain specific video games can help correct it.

There’s a YouTube video showing the games and explaining how they work.

The study claims to show that even after decades of seeing through one eye, essentially, adult patients with “lazy eye” have improved binocular vision after playing the games.

One of the study’s authors says it might be time to rethink the conventional wisdom about something many people have thought they would just have to live with.  He calls the ability of the brain to rewire its vision circuits this late in life “neural plasticity,” and wants to see further study of his very cool idea.

“These findings, [including] the results of new clinical trials, suggest that it might be time to reconsider our notions about neural plasticity in amblyopia,” Dr. Levi concludes.  He emphasizes that “careful controlled randomized clinical trials” will be needed to confirm the effectiveness of the new approaches.



23 and 1/2 Hours: A Lesson in Viral Health Communication

Maybe you’ve seen “23 and 1/2 Hours.” It is a 9 minute video on the importance of exercising 30 minutes a day. If you haven’t, then just scroll down a bit. Currently, the video has over 2,600,000 views on YouTube. Quite impressive for any 9 minute video (even one with cats), much more so for one that falls under health communication. The video was created by Dr. Mike Evans, a family physician. He wrote about the video in the April Issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine in an article titled “’23 and 1/2 Hours’ Goes Viral: Top 10 Learnings about Making a Health Message that People Give to One Another.” I advise seeking out the article. At 2 pages, it’s short and sweet, with insightful comments, and Dr. Evans’ writing is moist with humor and reflection instead of dry with clinical facts. And that’s probably at the heart of why “23 and 1/2 Hours” went viral – he’s a good communicator and can make the audience want to hear all of what he has to say. In a striking comment about the failure of medicine to embrace YouTube, Evans writes:

Considering this, I suppose we see a reflection of human nature on YouTube that includes our fascination with fame or the quick laugh or sex or the cringe worthy, but I also think we see the failure of medicine to go where the people are.

He illustrates this void by pointing out that the main competition for viral educational videos is UFO sightings and learning to pole dance, and the need for filling this void because the majority (75%) of care happens at home. So, health care practitioners should do what they can to educate patients outside of the doctor office, which comes in the form of engaging the patient online through various media.

So what are the 10 lessons learned? According to Evans:
1. Peer-to-peer health care is the new norm (as in, people share things online).
2. Collaborate with illustrators, audio and video editors, and other media production professionals.
3. Combine visuals with text and audio.
4. Tell a story, don’t just spew data.
5. Get a conversation going around your media – conversations make the media interactive and invite others to look at the media and participate in the conversation
6. Build your tribe. Evans guesses that part of the reason the video worked is because it praises the value of exercise, which has a lot of ardent followers who are quick to gather around anything pro-exercise. He suggests that a less sexy topic, like hypertension, wouldn’t have achieved virality.
7. Tell people why they should do something, not just what they should do.
8. Don’t use the old message, create a new one. Evans’ message wasn’t be healthy by losing weight, it was be healthy by being active.
9. Make the change doable.
10. Keep with attempts to create viral health communication, and inspire others to join in.

And without further adieu, here is the video that, hopefully, will start it all:

Logo for Affordable Care Act

Media messaging on the health care law

23 percent of the stories on the health care law now before the Supreme Court actually described what “Obamacare” would do, says a study just out from Pew.  41 percent of the stories talked about the politics of the bill and the strategies being used to fight it.  And…

The study also measured how often media reports mentioned terms used by opponents of the bill, such as “government-run,” or “rationing health care,” compared to those used by supporters, such as “pre-existing conditions” or “more competition.” It found that terms used by opponents “were far more present in media reports than terms associated with arguments supporting the bill.”

How does this happen?  Why on earth would reporters (I used to be one, so I do understand the business) miss the point of a law that has a complex set of provisions meant to provide health care coverage for all Americans?  And why, now, when its very existence is up for grabs, has coverage of that law dropped to near-nothing?

So what did stories talk about when they were showing up?  From Pew’s analysis, it appears the opponents of the Affordable Care Act won the terminology fight.  Phrases like “more government involvement” and “more taxes” showed up twice as often in stories about the potential law as did phrases like “more competition” or “insuring pre-existing conditions” or even  “greedy insurance industry.”

Pew table on healthcare law terms in news coverage

From the Pew website


Graphic Warning Labels on Cigarettes Improve Recall of Health Effects

While the debate over mandatory graphic warning labels on cigarette packages continues, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that these labels improve smokers’ recall of health effects associated with smoking. These new findings can serve to enhance the findings of population-based European and Canadian studies that found that graphic warning labels are effective in generating negative responses to smoking, increasing smokers’ desire to quit smoking, and changing beliefs about dangerous health effects caused by smoking. The current study randomized 200 current smokers to view a text-only warning, similar to the one currently on cigarette packages, and graphic warning labels that also had larger text warnings compared to current warnings. Researchers “found a significant difference in percentage correct recall of the warning label between those in the text-only versus graphic warning label condition, 50 percent vs. 83 percent. In addition, the quicker a smoker looked at the large text in the graphic warning, and the longer they viewed the graphic image, the more likely they were to recall the information correctly.” Researchers think that by drawing attention to the warning label, viewers will recall health information more accurately, and enhanced recall may extend to improving risk perception of smoking. Attracting the viewer’s attention first to the warning may make the viewer cautious when viewing the advertisement body of the cigarette package. Ultimately, increasing recall of smoking related health effects, improving risk perception of smoking, and making viewers cautious when looking at a cigarette advertisement would hopefully lead to an increase in people quitting smoking and a decrease in people starting the habit.

These studies support the case of graphic warning labels potentially playing a great role in decreasing a terrible public health problem. Whether these labels can withstand constitutional scrutiny still remains to be seen. But if they do, could we extend graphic warning labels to other harmful products, such as a diseased heart on the package of a McDonald’s cheeseburger or an amputated leg on a bottle of soda? What are your thoughts?

Image via vjeran2001 from stock xchng

CDC Communication Conference

One of the best U.S. agencies for health communication is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.  So if you’re a health communication student or professional, and there’s a chance to learn from the CDC, it’s worth taking.  The National Public Health Information Coalition, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will present the sixth annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media August 7 -9, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta, GA.

This conference brings together individuals representing academia, public health researchers and practitioners from federal and state government and the private sector, and provides a forum for collegial dialogue within and across these disciplines. The conference is an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues and shape the future of health communication, marketing, and media practice.

You can also follow the conference on twitter: #HCMMconf

Lessons for Public Health Campaigns from the Commercial Sector

A while back, I wrote a post about lessons health communicators could learn from pharmaceutical companies. This week, I experienced deja vu when I came across a recent article about what we can learn from successful commercial food marketing and how we can apply it towards marketing healthy food. The article is titled “Lessons for public health campaigns from analysing commercial food marketing success: a case study.” The study found that successful commercial food marketing campaigns included: data and knowledge (both nutritional and regarding consumer behavior), emotions (the study noted that repeated themes were happiness, naturalness, simplicity, and getting back to nature), endorsement (by well-known individuals), community (links consumers to common experiences, origins and traditions, and triggering active participation from consumers), media (TV was the most used), and why and how (conveying the marketing message, effective messages were simple and clear, long-term benefits were presented, and how to achieve these benefits was explained). It’s a good read, and it breaks down why commercial food marketing works: they know their audience’s desires and fears, know what their audience wants to hear, know how to say it convincingly to their audience, and know how to get the message to their audience. This is social marketing in a nutshell, and the study supports the importance of social marketing in an effective public health campaign. However, often times these principles aren’t used due to budget constraints or ignorance of how to conduct social marketing. The question is: how do you communicate the importance of social marketing techniques to the communicators?

Can you think of any public health campaigns that have used effective social marketing techniques? What about ones that haven’t? Were they successful?

Image via robak_sxc on stock xchng

Got a cough that won’t quit? Why vaccines matter.

The state of Washington is in the midst of a very real epidemic of whooping cough, trying to stop the spread of a disease that could have–should have–been eradicated decades ago.  It’s another in the recent spate of once-conquered illnesses that have re-emerged as more people refuse vaccinations for themselves and their children.

The so-called vaccine “controversy” is really a case study in 21-century health communications.  Solid, peer-reviewed research has, time after time, shown that the risks of vaccines are infinitesimally small compared to the risks of the illnesses they prevent.  Measles and pertussis (whooping cough) are coming back, and both can kill children.  Polio is re-emerging in some countries even after groups like the World Health Organization thought vaccines had finally eradicated it.

Here’s what we do know about some of the things people associate with vaccines: Autism’s causes are looking more and more like environmental issues, and the increase in the rate of that disorder due to better diagnoses than any other reason.  Thimerosal is long gone from all U.S. vaccines but the inactivated flu inoculation.  Truly, anyone who takes the time to dig a little online via credible medical websites will find that the arguments in favor of immunization far outweigh the anecdotal arguments against them, but reason doesn’t seem to be prevailing.

How do we, as health communicators, counter a viral (pardon the medical pun) campaign against a proven preventive measure?  It’s an issue that clearly hasn’t been solved, one that cries out for answers.

The Health Conscious Movement

The Health Conscious Movement was announced on June 2nd. Headed by MD Natasha Deonarain, its goal is to have people self-direct their health options and aims to “bring together communities and organizations of conventional doctors, wellness, health, fitness and nutrition experts, spiritual, energy and natural life practitioners, yoga therapists, dance instructors and many more in a massive online collaborative set to transform healthcare delivery in America.”

I can get behind this. Health is multifaceted and much more than care you get a doctor office. And Deonarain practices what she preaches. In the past decades, she’s opened and maintained urgent care clinics that have included chiropractic, massage therapy and acupuncture services. To quote the articles, she “envisions a massive network of like-minded people who come together online and break down barriers of communication between medical professionals and other providers of care. She sees this as a trend set to change the way healthcare is delivered in America.”

While it’s a little presumptive to issue a press release saying that you are starting a national movement, there are good things here. There’s not a lot of information out on the “movement,” but I imagine it’ll have an emphasis on preventative care, which is necessary since the leading causes of death in the US are preventable. I’ll admit that I raised my eyebrow when I saw that Deonarain had a book slated for publication next summer and wondered if the “movement” was just marketing for her book. Even if it is, if it encourages people to drop bad health habits and develop good ones, then I can get on board with it.

What do you think of the Health Conscious Movement? Do you think it’s a form of good health communication?

Image via Thadz on stock xchng