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A Healthier Future for West Virginia - Healthy People 2010
Federal 2010 Initiative
11 - Health Communication
The broad scope of the Healthy People 2010 initiative reaches across demographic and geographic boundaries. A wide variety of diseases and lifestyle behaviors are addressed. Intended to influence institutions, policies, programs, and individuals, Healthy People 2010 represents the most comprehensive, categorical approach to initiating positive change in health behaviors ever undertaken.
It has been recognized that the establishment of effective communication methods and practices is vital to the success of any health promotion or disease prevention campaign.
The mission of public health in West Virginia involves creating the environment, or "context," in which people can be healthy. Advancing healthy lifestyle education to the public involves the employment of effective communication strategies. Likewise, communicating data and information to policymakers, stakeholders, and public health practitioners is essential to creating the desired context.
Due to geographic and demographic realities, West Virginia faces significant challenges in certain areas of communications. West Virginia is a very rural state with a relatively small population; therefore, our mass media outlets are fewer than urban areas. The population in the state is also aging and the per capita income lags behind the rest of the country. These two factors, income and age, combine to contribute to the low percentage of homes in West Virginia with access to the Internet. Yet, as our population becomes older, they become more interested in health-related issues. They represent an audience waiting to be served.
In addition, some behavioral risk factors are more pronounced at lower income or education levels. The public system already has some channels in place to reach this population. These channels can be utilized to assist in mounting an organized communications campaign.
Clearly, the audience for public health messages is growing, and our ability to develop and disseminate those messages effectively needs to grow proportionately.
Rapidly developing advances in science, technology, and medicine draw more attention daily from the mass media. Our capacity to meet that opportunity with credible, helpful information needs to be able to increase as well.
The audiences for health communications messages are varied, from policymakers, to public health and health care workers, and ultimately to the general population, to whom we hope to provide access to better health strategies.
Developing our capacity to use a variety of traditional and emerging mediums to reach the public health community and the general public are the critical goals of these objectives.Top of Page
Data Source: West Virginia On-Line Media Guide
Establishing methods of distributing information to the variety of media outlets in West Virginia more equitably would assist public health communications in providing a more consistent format and instant accessibility to public health messages.
Data Source: West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH), Office of Community and Rural Health Services (OCRHS), Local Health Department Annual Program Plans
A reliable electronic communications network for all state and local health department entities is vital to establishing and maintaining the credibility of emergency public health communications, particularly in dealing with emerging issues such as bioterrorism. Internet communications channels can also be extremely useful in disease reporting, accessing databases, and disseminating public health alerts and messages.
Data Source: WVBPH, OCRHS, Local Health Department Annual Program Plans
The public health arena encompasses a wide variety of issues and disciplines. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health administers over 100 programs. Some of the public health messages of these programs and initiatives have become annual or even seasonal. In the winter we tell people about the importance of flu shots. During a flood we talk about water safety. In the summer we might talk about how to recognize and prevent heat stroke. Some issues, such as bioterrorism preparedness or emerging diseases like the West Nile virus, are less traditional and require constant updating and revising. Developing a central "warehouse" of information on a wide variety of issues and public health initiatives would be the cornerstone of a comprehensive strategic communications plan at both the state and local level.Top of Page
Meeting the Objectives
Health Promotion Channels for Achieving Objectives:
The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health will be the lead agency in advancing Healthy People 2010 Communications Objectives. The Bureau will facilitate this collaborative effort, which will be centralized in the Division of Health Promotion and coordinated through the Commissioner's Office.
Work Group Members
Mark Ferrell, Work Group Leader, Communications Officer, WVBPH
Chew F. The relationship of information needs to issue relevance and media use. Journalism Quarterly 71, no.3: 676-688.
Elliott W and Rosenberg W. Media exposure and beliefs about science and technology exposure. Communications Research 14, no. 2: 164-188.
Emig A. Community ties and dependence on media for public affairs. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 72, no. 2: 402-411.
Wallack L. et al. News For a Change - An Advocate's Guide to Working with the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1999.
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This page was last updated June 13, 2001.