I don’t think that most public health messages work effectively. For example; ‘Make a date for cervical screening” “check your breasts” “have you been immunised against flu?” etc, etc.
Mainly, I don’t think soundbites tell the whole truth, and I don’t think that mass messaging treats people as individuals. Nor do public health campaigns seek to properly inform people about pros and cons of healthcare interventions, or discuss risk or benefit in a helpful way. In that sense, these messages are often no better than those sent out by interested companies such as pharmaceutical companies or private clinics touting for business – and I do wonder if the time has come to get rid of all ‘one line’ public health campaigns and concentrate on giving people good information where the space is available to explain it properly – namely the internet.
This study just published in the Lancet is unusual in that it looks for the evidence for public health campaigns. But the problems are threefold: one, that the harms of public health campaigns are not often investigated or recorded; two, that a desired outcome of mass media campaigning is not ‘a better understanding’ but simply ‘awareness’ (so who is going to tell you about the lack of evidence for many groups to have flu vaccine?) and three, is this really what we want? I quote: The great promise of mass media campaigns lies in their ability to disseminate well defined behaviourally focused messages to large audiences repeatedly, over time, in an incidental manner, and at a low cost per head.” This sounds just a little bit like bullying to me…..