Tag: internet

Information overload

I’m a health news junkie. I made the decision to pursue a career in public health for many reasons, not the least of which was the realization that I read/skim every article in The New York Times Health section every week. But returning from two weeks of vacation where I was unplugged and offline, I was overwhelmed by the many health communications stories I could write about this week.

Should I talk about the federal government and private industry’s inability to communicate openly with consumers about the realities of industrial farming?

Or should I talk about Zeke Emanuel’s article on the excesses of our medical system?

How about the saturation of the airwaves with TV cooking shows that deter real Americans from using more than the microwave in their kitchen because we are inundated with the idea that cooking from scratch is intense, time consuming, and not worth it if you don’t have access to $100 mushrooms?

And then it hit me.

Roger Cohen wrote this week about a few companies that are starting to draw clear lines in the sand for their employees, digital lines between work life and home life, in response to the negative effects of a 24 hour work world. Those smartphones, tablets, and laptops have allowed work to invade the home; emails and information can stress us out long after we’ve left the office, interferring with our own wellbeing and personal relationships. To counter our compulsive devise monitoring, companies are halting email traffic at the end of the work day and declaring “email amnesty” over the holidays. As I stand in my kitchen working on my laptop, checking my Blackberry every 5 minutes, I realize that even health communicators need to heed this important advice: to preserve our mental, even physical health, and the important relationships that sustain us, we need clearer divisions between work and home, between job and personal time.

I am sure that health communicators would do a better job if we gave ourselves time to think after a full day of emails and meetings. But how do you convey the message of “unplug” and “relax” without drawing people back online, to the TV, and other communication devices to read about how stressed-out we are? And who should be responsible for the decision to unplug: the individual, the company, the government? What would help you really leave work at the end of the day?

Image courtesy of digitalart

Social media for sanitation

To raise awareness for World Toilet Day on November 19 and the health and sanitation toilets promote, Matt Damon filmed a video informing that, “more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.” The video is posted below, but just a warning, there is foul language in it:

Damon is a co-founder of Water.org, which co-sponsors the day, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, One.org and other organizations. The video also is part of a weeklong “Talk Sh*t” campaign that ends tomorrow. The campaign encourages Facebook and Twitter users to donate their statuses and feeds this week to the campaign, so it can post daily updates about the lack of water-related and overall sanitation present in many countries around the world. Toilets are part of water and sanitation infrastructures that prevent and greatly reduce diarrheal and many infectious diseases worldwide.

The site also touts toilets as the invention to save the most lives ever.

So what do you think of this campaign? Is it effective in using various communication methods (celebrity spokesperson, social media, etc.) to promote an under-represented (and messy) cause? And can even Matt Damon make this hot enough to be discussed?

Photo credit: Mintguy at Wikimedia Commons

The good news is…

Health can’t all be bad news–smallpox exists only in locked storage vaults, and (until this generation) people are living longer and longer. So who’s covering the positive health news stories today?

Yesterday, Lydia and Dr. Tom Linden shared important information about how to get the public’s interest in a health story, and how to effectively communicate health messages through the media. Often health stories cover crises, challenges, barriers to health, incurable disease–stories that grab our attention, but are certainly not uplifting.

Katie covered a study this week from the journal Health Communication that explored the idea that positive messaging is more effective than fear/negative messaging. Taken together, I wondered whether there are media outlets available that focus on positive news. A quick spin on the Internet revealed that I am not the only one looking for positive news about health! Stories about communities banding together to improve the health of their environment, individuals overcoming barriers to health and much more can be found on/in many websites, blogs and magazines. So if you’re looking for some positive news about the world, try these:

Happy News


GoodNews Network

Ode Magazine

Optimist News

Yes! Magazine

Note: this is not an exhaustive list, nor have I delved deeply into these websites’ credentials. If you have a favorite positive news source, please share!

What’s your gut reaction to positive media outlets? How should positive media outlets participate in mainstream journalism/complement mainstream media? Are there any downsides to reading about positive news stories?

Image courtesy of Photostock.

Cleaning up the poop

Dog poop, that is. In an effort to keep the Puget Sound (pictured) in Washington State clean, the Puget Sound Starts Here initiative created a video encouraging residents to remember to scoop their dogs’ poop. The song, “Dog Doogity,” is set to the beat of Blackstreet’s 1996 hit “No Diggity” and even has a “Dog Doogity Poop Pickup Dance” viewers can learn. See the video below:

I remember as a pre-teen and teenager often rolling my eyes whenever adults parodied popular music (and rap and R&B seem to be especially utilized) in an attempt to make other teens and me engage in healthier behaviors, such as not smoking and staying off drugs. But now that I’m a bit older, or maybe it’s just this particular video, I find it different, funny and maybe even in on the joke. This video almost seems to be saying, “Look, we know this is silly, but if we’re willing to create a video where we dance and sing about dog poop, then maybe you can at least clean it up?” The video also isn’t necessarily aimed at teens or youth, but wants everyone to start, or continue scooping the poop.

The effort also is doing more than just putting out a video on the Internet, but creating a campaign around it. If you visit the website, the video’s “stars” are given names, Martin Luther and Lola, you can download the video, and there are resources to learn the lyrics and dance.

What do you think of this effort to protect the Puget Sound and environmental health in that area? Do you find it cheesy or creative? And most importantly, will you be doing the “Dog Doogity” dance anytime soon?

Image courtesy Buphoff from Wikimedia Commons

Online conversations about health plans: stormy weather.

When you post something about your health insurance company on Facebook, how often are you giving them a compliment?  Probably not nearly as often as you’re saying something negative, if you’re like most of the posters observed in a recent study of social media.

Amplicate, a company that specializes in analyzing social media, found recently that 70% of the comments on health plans made on social media sites were negative. For the one-year period between September 2010 and August 2011, more than 2300 comments were made on Facebook and other sites about 18 health insurers, and those opinions were shared more than 632,000 times.

One month in that year showed more positive than negative comments, and then by a pretty narrow margin: in May 2011, when Medicare’s possible restructuring was a hot political topic because of the U.S. budget, 51 percent of the comments online about insurers were positive—and those were mostly about Medicare.  That positive trend for the U.S. health care program stayed true throughout the year; Medicare was consistently the most positively regarded health plan.

There’s certainly reason to think finances have something to do with the dissatisfaction people feel about their health plans; a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that premiums for employer-provided health insurance, where 150 million Americans get their coverage, jumped 9% in 2011 while workers’ wages grew just 2%. The average family policy now pays more than $15,000 per year to cover its members with health insurance, and what the average employee pays for his or her share of health plan premiums has gone up precipitously.  Since thirteen years ago, worker contributions to premiums have increased 168% while the average employee’s wages have increased 50% and inflation has gone up 38%.

Media for mental health

The National Health Service (NHS) for Greater Glasgow and Clyde in Scotland is recruiting 10 volunteers to train on using media to promote mental health issues, according to an article on the BBC News website. The initiative is called Mind Waves, and the volunteers will be known as “community reporters” as they share information through the news and other media. Volunteers’ training will include using social networking and the arts to support Mind Waves’ initiative to positively use the media for mental health. It also stated the project’s goal:


The aim is to raise awareness among the general public about mental wellbeing and recovery and what makes a healthy community for everyone.

The volunteers also will receive peer support from individuals who have communication and social media experience, such as enrolled mentor Bill Jenkins OBE (Order of the British Empire), “former head of news and current affairs at both BBC Scotland and Scottish Television.” The project will run for six months and could be continued if successful. It is supported by Outside the Box, a social enterprise using community development to help marginalized individuals make a contribution.

What do you think of this project’s idea that those with mental health experience can be effective reporters about it? How can their reporting have a positive impact compared to traditional journalists? If it works, do you think it could be replicated in other countries and applied to different public health issues?

Photo courtesy Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hollywood (credit: Flickr)

Could your celebrity obsession improve your health?

If you’re addicted to E! TV and reruns of the Kardashians, you may want to check out Celebrity Diagnosis, a blog run by a pair of medical doctors, which turns media reports about celebrities’ medical conditions into an opportunity to discuss what facts we need to know about common illnesses and ailments.

Celebrity Diagnosis has touched on everything from suicide among reality stars to Victoria Beckham’s stiletto-related foot troubles.

Outside of the world of blogs, discussing celebrities’ medical conditions could be a great starting point for a health discussion with a friend, family member, or patient. Instead of having to share personal medical experiences, which may be too private or difficult for some, we might use celebrities as a common ground to talk about health in a way that is at once familiar yet not too close to home.

We at Upstream have reported earlier about celebrities’ impact on health education, such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, mental health reality shows, and use of celebrities in marketing campaigns.

What do you think of using stars as examples in medicine? Is it an effective way of engaging others about medical issues? Or does it exploit celebrities’ problems and invade their privacy? How have media reports impacted your awareness of medical conditions?

Image credit: Flickr



Are teens learning about safe sex online?

Despite decline in school-based sex education, online sexual health information is not filling the gap for teens, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Communication.

The teens interviewed for the exploratory study reported not frequently using the Internet to find information about contraception, birth control, condoms, and safe sex. They said they trusted family, schools, health providers, and friends more than the Internet for information on sexual health.

Figuring out where to go for trustworthy information online was a barrier often mentioned for getting information about contraception and sexual health.  While teens’ healthy skepticism toward internet content and reliance on more interpersonal modes of communication is encouraging, it seems like teens may not always  know how to effectively search for and find trustworthy online sexual health information in spite of the growing role of other forms of online communication, such as social media and general health information seeking.

The researchers suggested that partnering with parents and schools in order to teach teens how to find teen-friendly websites on safe sex and contraception would be more effective than just promoting Internet-based sex education alone.

What do you think of this approach? What are the best ways to get parents and schools engaged in teaching these skills? What are some of your favorite trusted websites or media on safe sex practices?

Image source: Flickr

Feature: The Behavior Wizard has potential for behavior change

It can be hard to change behaviors, especially behaviors that people are rather accustomed to doing.

I asked some friends what health behaviors they would most like to change, and I got a number of responses: “I would like to eat fewer sweets and desserts;” “I want to get to the gym more;” and “I would find more time for myself and just work on relaxing!”

Now that some goals have been established, how can one go about changing behavior? Well, it’s not easy, but I recently came across a tool that might be able to help people through the process and might help those who want to encourage behavior change as well.

The Behavior Wizard was developed by Dr. BJ Fogg and his team at Stanford University and was first demonstrated in May 2010, according to his web site. The Behavior Wizard is a way that the previously created Behavior Grid and Behavior Model come together to help individuals assess what type of behavior they would like to change and to get some feedback on how to do it. The behavior wizard helps people identify what type of behavior they would like to change (a green path behavior, for example, includes doing a new behavior from now on, as compared to a black path behavior, which is stopping a behavior).

There are 15 types of behavior change provided, and once the Behavior Wizard helps people identify their desired type of behavior change, individuals can request a copy of a guide for changing that type of behavior. Guides include examples and “real world techniques” to help aid in behavior change, according to the web site for the Behavior Grid. Guides appear to still be in the process of being completed, but people can request a copy of the Purple Path Behavior Guide, which is a 38 page document aimed at increasing behavior intensity or duration, and can request to be sent a complete guide for certain behavior types when they become available.

In the mean time, the site itself provides some general information on the behavior one is trying to change. What do you think of a tool that helps people diagnose a type of behavior change they would like to make and then provides tips on how to do it? How do you see health communicators being able to use such a tool? Do you think it makes a difference that the type is not categorized by specific behaviors but by the general goal (i.e. Not quit smoking but stop a behavior permanently)?

family watching television 1958

Report provides information on youth and media

According to a recent report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the Sesame Workshop, television use among preschoolers is the highest it has been in the past eight years. And older kids are also watching television, with most kids watching around three hours of television a day. Additionally, young children have been found to be increasingly using digital media and may use more than one type of media at a time.

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