14 November 2010
We all know that community-based prevention is important. So why is the public so often unaware of what community prevention1 does for them? And if it's so important, why does public health and prevention funding always get cut when national, state, and local budgets get tight?
To answer these questions, this year a number of leaders in the prevention community2 got together to conduct public opinion research3. The research included 20 in-depth interviews with public health officers, business leaders, and elected officials
It is our collective hope that all stakeholders with an investment in keeping the public healthy – from local health departments to the business community and beyond – will use these messages to move decision makers and the public toward greater support. Speaking in a unified voice and using tested messaging, we can shift opinion about prevention away from a focus on individual responsibility and towards an understanding that the community has a role in promoting health.
Principles of Effective Messaging
1) Values and beliefs outweigh facts. To move the public, we must connect with their deeply held beliefs about prevention:
- America isn't as healthy as it should be... but America is still the best country.
- Prevention is good because it improves quality of life, and saves money in the long run.
- A person's health is mostly due to their individual choices.
- Personal prevention, like getting an annual exam, is important, and shows that someone is taking responsibility for their own health.
- We're all responsible for making sure kids have a healthy future.
2) Know your audience. Community prevention appeals to all kinds of people across the political spectrum, but your most receptive audience will be women; African Americans and Latinos are also very supportive. Use these other resources (coming soon) to help tailor your message to your audience.
3) Use specific examples of community prevention, because the public doesn't necessarily know that prevention goes beyond things like mammograms and colonoscopies. These examples test well, but you should use any examples that relate to your goals:
- Ban smoking from public places
- Make school lunches healthier
- Label packaged foods to be clearer about which ones contain unhealthy amounts of fat, sodium, or sugar
- Get a discount on one's health insurance premium if a person participates in a healthy living program
4) Tell personal stories. Everyone connects better with a story of a real person. The best stories are told in the first person, by someone who has benefitted. Don't give a long list of facts and figures. One or two well-chosen statistics can sometimes help – but less is definitely more.
Community Prevention Messages: Repeat Them Again and Again
These messages test well with the public:
- Talk about kids, and aspirations for the future. "Kids are our future, and to have a healthy future, we must help our children grow up healthy. [Insert your example or story here.]"
- Link community prevention to personal prevention, which is well understood by the public. "It's important to get preventive care, like checkups, vaccinations, and mammograms—but we need to do more. We need to change the way we eat, move, and interact so that health and prevention become priorities every day and not just when we get sick. [Insert your example or story here.]"
- Acknowledge the role of individual choices – especially with reluctant audiences. "It's time we step up to the plate and take control over our own lives, by making healthier choices like buying fruits and vegetables. But we need government and businesses to work with us, not get in the way. [Insert your example or story here.]"
Used consistently and over time, these messages will help to convince skeptics in every sector that community prevention is important. Only then will we be one step closer to building a prevention majority in this country. Let's keep the drum beat going.
1 Our research shows that the public prefers the term "community prevention" to "community-level prevention" or "community-level intervention."
2 Our work group included the AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Public Health Association, APCO Worldwide, the California Endowment, Emory University, First Focus, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Mental Health America, the National Association of City and County Health Officials, the National Academy for State Health Policy, Partnership for Prevention, SEIU, and Trust for America's Health.
3 This memos is based on the combined findings of several rounds of research carried out by Lake Research Partners from January - September, 2010. More details about the research methods and findings are available in our summary document.