Prevention may be the silver bullet that helps get the nation’s $2 trillion healthcare costs under control, but implementing and sustaining it feels more like eating just one potato chip: nearly impossible. It requires a collective paradigm shift from a culture of excessive consumption and reactive healthcare to one of moderation and prevention.
This cultural change starts with changing how we perceive and value prevention in businesses, schools, places of worship, community facilities – everywhere we live, work and play. But change is hard, and most of us resist it even when we know it’s in our best interest. So what is it that will move us to take the first steps? Not too surprising to the marketing-types, it starts with creating the right message, delivering it in the right place at the right time to stir the emotions of business leaders, government officials, religious leaders, or community organizations and moving them to act. In business, that message is often about how much of the operating budget is being eaten up by healthcare benefits.
Last week, I attended the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) CEOs Against Cancer Corporate Impact Conference at Washington University where companies that have made a commitment to creating a culture of wellness and prevention were recognized. Leaders from companies like Boeing, Walgreens, Express Scripts and Allstate conducted breakout sessions where they shared messages of best practices, lessons learned and how they are measuring the success of their corporate wellness programs. Tied closely to the wellness programs are corporate social responsibility initiatives where these private sector companies partnered with ACS to promote cancer prevention screenings and healthy lifestyles in the community and raise money for research. Many conference attendees said that they got great ideas from these sessions and couldn’t wait to try them in their own organizations — right message, right place, right time.
This is an anecdotal example of the impact of messaging on prevention, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Best Practices Guide for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs references a number of studies that demonstrate the impact of media messaging on tobacco use behaviors. The cancer risk of tobacco use is common knowledge, and yet, the research shows a direct correlation between educational tobacco campaigns and spikes in requests for tobacco cessation assistance.
Another cancer risk factor that may not be quite as well-known is obesity. Because educational campaigns about obesity prevention are relatively new, there are few scientific studies on their effectiveness. However, a 2013 study published in the journal Obesity suggests that targeted educational campaigns to create awareness about obesity are beginning to affect attitudes about the risk obesity presents for many chronic diseases.
Bottomline? Communication messaging is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. Get the biggest ROI for your communication dollar by testing your messages with your target audience first and be sure you have the right message in the right place at the right time.
 Colleen L. Barry, Sarah E. Gollust, Emma E. McGinty, Jeff Niederdeppe. Effects of Messages from a Media Campaign to Increase Public Awareness of Childhood Obesity. Obesity 2014; 22: 466-473.