Conveying Public Health Messages: Are We Effective?

Through the years, public health officials have experimented with a number of ways to spread the word about certain issues that are crucial for widespread well-being. Here, we’ll explore three methods to see whether or not they’re worthwhile, and why.

International Days of Focus

April 25, 2013 has been designated as World Malaria Day, and promoted as a way for the world to examine the status of the disease and related treatments. Currently, the goal is to eliminate all malaria deaths within the next two years, and although the number of annual death has greatly lessened recently, it still stands at over 700,000 per year.

Although international days of focus such as this one seemed to have good intentions, some websites, such as a public health website run by the Scottish government, note that World Malaria Day is an opportunity for people who are already working in the malaria community to collaborate and refocus efforts. Perhaps the outcome would be more favorable if efforts were made to include more members of the general public.

That’s a mission that has been done well by the organizers of World AIDS Day, which occurs every year on the first day of December. Marked by red ribbons, the occasion has also been brought into the public sphere with help from global retailers like Starbucks. Last year, the coffee company donated a portion of all sales on December 1st to the Global Fund of the RED Foundation, an effort started by Bobby Shriver and U2 frontman Bono.

Although the number of people living with AIDS has risen in the past two decades, and now stands at about 34 million worldwide, AIDS organizations clarify that related deaths have dropped, and people now have a heightened awareness about how the disease is transmitted and treated.


The Pew Research Group and Arbitron recently teamed up to find out how people use media. Data found that there are about 91,000 different podcasts in existence, although it’s worth noting that the figure only climbed by about 1,000 from the previous year. Also, only about a quarter of Americans reported listening to podcasts, and nearly half admitted to not knowing what a podcast is.

Despite those less-than-promising results, dozens of podcasts aim to make people more aware of public health topics. The World Health Organization (WHO) has one, as does the drug company Pfizer. Although podcasts seemingly would appeal to the tech-savvy generation, statistics about adoption of podcasts throughout the world may be too low to cause substantial improvements just yet.

Promoting Public Transit

Public Transit Advertisements

Statistics have shown that alcohol abuse is particularly a problem for people under age 21. With that in mind, the Pittsburgh Port Authority began running anti-drinking advertisements aimed at youths who ride the city’s trolley and bus system. The transit website notes that over 230,000 people use those transit services there each day, so any anti-drinking campaign should at least reach a wide audience.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that the advertising costs about one million dollars per year, however professionals from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health note that in the United States, there are only about 5,000 underage drinkers who die each year as a result of their habits. That may suggest that there simply aren’t enough of them in Pittsburgh to justify the money spent.

As these examples show, public health messages have been broadcast with varying levels of success. Although many have certainly succeeded in making people more aware of existing problems, it’s sometimes necessary to weigh the costs versus the benefits when evaluating methods.

Editor’s Note: Tracy Rentz is a professional writer. Do you enjoy solving public issues? You may find yourself interested in pursuing public health degrees such as those offered at USC.

Leave a Reply