On Message: Media Matters in the Classroom

VinceLarryRemember Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies? They made their debut in 1985, in print, radio, and television ads nationwide that promoted the use of seat belts. “You can learn a lot from a dummy,” the duo told anyone who would listen. And a lot of people did: In the first year of the campaign, seat belt use almost doubled, jumping from 23 percent to 39 percent in a 19-city survey. (Today, mandatory seat belt laws have brought that number up to about 85 percent.)

In the late ’90s, another public health campaign became a cultural touchstone when Hollywood joined forces with researchers to promote the concept of the “designated driver” by planting it in shows running on prime-time television. In four years, drunken driving fatalities dropped by 25 percent.

These are just two examples of public health messages that successfully reached their intended audiences. Getting the message out—through a citywide campaign promoting exercise, for example, or a news story about a study on asthma and pollution—is a key part of eff orts to translate public health research into strategies that improve people’s well-being. Yet in this age of information overload, public health researchers often are ill-equipped to engage with people beyond academia’s ivory tower.

[Read more at Columbia Public Health Magazine // Fall, 2014]