Public Health Campaigns: Getting the Message Across

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LOOK AT ME! Do I have your attention? What do I need to do to change the world? Catching the attention of a passerby or reader can be a challenge. Teachers, authors and media people work hard to construct written materials in ways that will make a reader, even a casual one, stop what he is doing in his busy world and take note of the message. Successful advertisers can earn big bucks on one campaign, only to see their fortunes dwindle when competition beats them out.

Changing behaviors can be especially challenging endeavors. No one likes to change, particularly if a new behavior crimps your style, or is not fun or cool. Designing an effective message that will change harmful behaviors is not a simple matter. And, with changing times and changing issues, the medium must change also.

The World Health Organization has been in the business of changing health behaviors for well over a century. It is recognized as an authority and agency of change in public health. Reports and guidelines to professionals in the field are general practice. However, it also seeks to reach the public through messages and media.

Public health posters began appearing around World War I and continue today to address pressing issues. WHO's poster campaigns are collected in a new publication, Public Health Campaigns: getting the message across, which is on display in the State Library. It is a colorful collection reflecting the changing health priorities of the twentieth century throughout the world.

The aim of the authors is to spark discussion and research into the best way to promote healthy behavior. Is it the suit-clad businessman using a handkerchief (coughs and sneezes), happy children washing hands after touching a chicken (Avian flu), a burdened woman walking in snow (tuberculosis and Christmas seals), athletes against smoking, a young woman retching into a toilet (alcohol) or naked athletes (condoms)? The slogans range from the tame "Don't smoke" or "Use a handkerchief" to a more in-your-face "You smoke, you die," a skeleton sharing a needle (AIDS), or "With alcohol you'll discover new sensations" (for the retching young woman). There are slogans for mothers on breastfeeding and for farmers using equipment. Even what is a drawn or photographed show the changes in public attitudes and involvements.

Also, since WHO's activities are worldwide, the posters reflect the health problems of individual countries and peoples. Text on eight health campaigns explains the problem, the situation at the time, statistics, and reflects on the changes in the posters. Since WHO is an international figure, several languages are represented. The book is a trip down memory lane, as it recalls both successful and still ongoing health campaigns.

Stop by the SC State Library and check it out!