National Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Time for the Truth about Tanning

Ah, the merry month of May—time for prom, the beach, and Memorial Day, that long, sun-filled weekend that kicks off the summer.

Tanning 1

It’s no coincidence that May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention campaign this year is all about sunburns.

But everyone—especially teens—needs to hear a bigger message, too: There is no safe tan, contrary to what your local tanning salon wants you to believe. Did you know that many metro areas now have more tanning salons per square mile than Starbucks or McDonald’s? So there are plenty of opportunities to fry all year round, with a discount for frequent tanners. Researchers have even documented a trend of mother/daughter bonding through tanning bed visits!

tanning 2Teens, in particular, are vulnerable to the media mania promoting sun-kissed skin. And so, melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, is becoming more and more common among young people. The United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) 1999–2009 Cancer Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report shows that melanoma is the second most common cancer among young people age 15 to 29. And teens just keep on tanning—about one in three young white women under 25 tans indoors. Having sunburns early in life is equally dangerous.

Getting the no-tan message across to teens is a challenge. After all, it’s hard for teenagers—just like the rest of us—to connect what we do today to health outcomes down the road.tanning 3


To help with this task, Danya was pleased to develop The Truth about Tanning infographic for CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control as part of the NPIN contract. (You’ll see images from the infographic here, and you can download The Truth about Tanning for your website, social network, or blog!) Based on behavioral interventions that have been successful in reducing intentional tanning, the infographic dispels common myths about tanning with a focus on appearance-related themes, which are definitely top-of-mind for young women.

My personal favorite image from the infographic plays up the “yuck factor” with the risk of picking up skin infections from tanning beds that haven’t been cleaned properly—or at all! More and more dorms and apartment complexes are offering tanning facilities as a perk to attract residents . . . but who’s doing the cleaning?

PrintCDC also recommends these easy ways to avoid sunburn:

  • Schedule outdoor activities before 10 or after 4 when UV rays are less intense.
  • Stay in the shade.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim.
  • Use sunscreen with at least 15 SPF even on cloudy days. Put it on again every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

As a life-long sun lover, I admit it’s tempting to ignore the facts (just this once, I tell myself—I’ll cover up next time). But the mirror doesn’t lie. The truth is, we pay a price for tanning, regardless of the source, sunlight or tanning bed. Melanoma is just not worth the tan it takes to get there.

By Madeline Barrow

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

Image credit -- CDC's Vital Signs: Preventing Repeat Teen Births

Image credit — CDC’s Vital Signs: Preventing Repeat Teen Births

I hesitate to admit this on a work-related blog, but since May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, here goes: I watch MTV’s Teen Mom 2 almost every week. Almost every week, I find myself criticizing the moms on the show for being so immature, and then reminding myself that I need to have more empathy because the moms are still kids, too.

Inevitably, that leads me to wonder what it would have been like had I become a mom at 16. Would I have finished high school, much less college? Would I have ever been able to leave my hometown (and the help of family members)? Could I have raised a healthy, successful child?

The honest answer to my questions is maybe, maybe not.

There are a lot of statistics out in the world about teen moms. According to CDC, they are less likely to finish high school – only about 50% of teen moms receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age (compared to 90% of women who did not give birth during adolescence).

There are also a lot of statistics about babies born to teen moms. They are more likely to have fewer skills and be less prepared for kindergarten, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, drop out of high school, give birth as a teenager, and be unemployed or underemployed as a young adult.

But teen pregnancies can be prevented. That’s why it’s one of CDC’s Winnable Battle areas. And that’s just one of the reasons Danya is proud to provide assistance to CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health through an NPIN Task Order.

Over the past two decades, teen pregnancy rates have fallen in the United States. Still, according to CDC, in 2011, 329,797 babies were born to teen mothers (age 15–19). Perhaps this is even more surprising: In an April 2013 issue of Vital Signs, CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health announced that nearly one in five teen births is a repeat birth, meaning that the mother has had two or more pregnancies that resulted in live birth before age 20. That’s about 183 repeat teen births a day in the United States.

There are disparities in teen birth rates, with non-Hispanic black youth, Hispanic/Latino youth, and socioeconomically disadvantaged youth of any race or ethnicity experiencing the highest rates of teen pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, American Indian and Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and black teens are about 1.5 times more likely to have a repeat teen birth, compared to white teens.

Repeat births pose additional risks to teen moms and their babies. For moms, it further tightens resources and education and employment opportunities. For babies, rates of preterm and low birth rate are higher in teens with a repeat birth, as compared to first births.

What can we do to prevent teen pregnancies – and teen repeat pregnancies? And how do we talk about teen pregnancy prevention without criticizing and disparaging teens who are parents? These are difficult questions to answer because teen pregnancy is such a controversial topic. But it’s important and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

In Vital Signs, CDC suggests that all teens, including teen parents, can:

  • Choose not to have sex.
  • Use birth control correctly every time if they are having sex. They should also use condoms every time they have sex to prevent disease.
  • Discuss sexual health issues with their parents, partner, health care professionals, and other adults and friends they trust.
  • Visit to find a family planning clinic near them for birth control if they choose to be sexually active.

Although there are lots of statistics about teen parents and their babies, being a teen parent is about so much more than numbers. Don’t we all think we are going to beat the statistics anyway, especially as teenagers? Sometimes, we do. That’s a little bit of what I hope we get to see on Teen Mom 2.

By Stacy Fentress

Minority Health Determines the Health of the Nation

minority 1

April was National Minority Health Month, a time to raise awareness about health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines health disparities as “…preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.”

Health disparities can be caused by socioeconomic status, little or no access to medical care, geographic region, language barriers, social structures, environmental threats, education status, and many other factors. As we celebrate National Minority Health Month, it is important to note how minority health influences the health of this nation. One key example is the health disparity that exists among African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. According to a study that was published in 2010 by CDC, 1 in 52 Hispanics/Latinos and 1 in 22 African Americans will receive an HIV diagnosis during their lifetimes, compared to an estimated 1 in 170 whites.

minority 2During the 2nd Annual Morehouse College Health Disparity Symposium on April 17, 2013, four public health professionals representing different departments within CDC discussed how high-impact prevention programs can promote health equity. High-impact prevention programs are interventions focused on the places and populations where needs are most urgent and where programs will have the most impact. The speakers also focused on the 21st century challenges that organizations like CDC face in offering solutions to public health problems, such as violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pandemics, and access to healthcare.

Are Inequities Inevitable?

Dr. Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist in the Surveillance Branch of the Division of Violence Prevention at CDC, opened the discussion with a presentation titled “Are Inequities Inevitable?” and focused on violence in communities of color like Chicago, New Orleans, and Miami. One of the most striking visuals Dr. Crosby showed was a bar graph that compared educational attainment with homicide rates; communities where educational attainment was above high school levels were less likely to see homicides in their neighborhoods versus communities where education attainment was less than high school. Dr. Crosby emphasized that health disparities, like violence, cannot be viewed as independent incidences. Instead, determinants of health like high-quality education and safe housing influence health outcomes, and our prevention efforts should address the symptoms, not just the disease.

Promoting Health Equity

Dr. Hazel Dean, deputy director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP), followed Dr. Crosby and discussed promoting health equity for the prevention of STIs among young people. Along with Dr. Crosby, Dr. Dean discussed the impact of STIs on young people of color and how determinants of health influence health outcomes. Dr. Dean explained that young people of color are affected by STIs and HIV/AIDS more than their white counterparts, and this outcome is tied to their education level, access to health insurance, and the cultural sensitivity of their health care providers. Dr. Dean said that interventions like CDC’s national HIV/AIDS campaign, Act Against AIDS, are models for reaching high-risk populations like African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and men who have sex with men (MSM) about HIV prevention. Dr. Dean explained that, “When we improve our strategies, we improve our health outcomes.”

Vulnerable Populations

Maleeka Glover, senior research scientist and lead for CDC’s Vulnerable Populations Planning for Pandemic Influenza with the Influenza Coordination Unit (ICU), discussed the importance of risk communication and pandemic preparedness for populations who are most at risk. One example Ms. Glover used was pandemic preparedness for H1N1. According to Ms. Glover, vulnerable populations for H1N1 include: the elderly, pregnant women, those with developmental disabilities, minorities, individuals with limited English proficiency, public housing residents, and those living in low-income residences. Often, there is a care gap among these populations when it comes to seeking vaccination and understanding risk. Ms. Glover explained that risk communication must be culturally competent and tailored to these groups.

minority 3Social Determinants of Health

Collectively, the panelists at the Health Disparity Symposium proved that while race and ethnicity are not directly linked to higher rates of diseases, it is important to note that social determinants of health shape the context of vulnerability, and this leads to an increased risk of exposure to disease. For example, insufficient screening, confidentiality concerns, lack of access to health care, and multiple sex partners can lead to an increased risk of acquiring and transmitting diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) report on Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health represents a global framework on how to eliminate health disparities. The WHO’s overarching recommendations to eliminate health disparities involve:

  • Improving daily living conditions, including living and working conditions that will create better lifestyles.
  • Tackling the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources addresses the inequitable pay between men and women so that society is organized at the global, national, and local levels. The public sector will play a vital role in this agenda.
  • Measuring and understanding the problem and assessing the impact of action, the first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge that a problem exists. Global health equity surveillance systems should monitor health inequities and the social determinants of health to evaluate the health equity impact of policy and action. This will involve strong public health research and evaluation.

It is clear that individual risk behaviors do not occur in a vacuum. When it comes to high-impact prevention efforts, it is important to take into account these social determinants of health, and how these factors contribute to risk factors for acquiring and transmitting diseases.

Achieving Health Equity in the 21st Century

minority 4There are efforts and programs in place in this country to address the ongoing concern of health disparities. Dr. Leandris Liburd, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) at CDC, highlighted the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA) as one. This national movement aims to increase the effectiveness of programs that target the elimination of health disparities through the coordination of partners, leaders, and stakeholders committed to action. What began as a collection of views and recommendations from community leaders and other public and private partners to achieve health equity resulted in the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity. This strategy provides an overarching roadmap for eliminating health disparities through cooperative and strategic actions and outlines 20 specific goals and objectives for public and private partnerships to help racial and ethnic minorities reach their full health potential. The roadmap also serves as a guide for local organizations to use to identify which strategies are most effective in reaching their communities.

minority 5Released along with the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity was the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. This plan outlines goals and actions HHS will take to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. Some of these goals include: increasing the availability, quality, and use of data to improve the health of minority populations; assessing the impact of all HHS policies, programs, and decisions to reduce health disparities; and measuring and providing incentives for better health care quality for minority populations.

In our opinion, reducing and eliminating health disparities, especially among minority populations, is an ethical issue. We cannot accept a health care infrastructure where individuals and populations are subject to premature death and disease due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, age, or gender. Eliminating health disparities means that health care is equitable and easily accessible for all. As health communication practitioners, the Health Disparity Symposium at Morehouse College reinforced to us that health prevention messages must be targeted, and appropriate communication channels must be used to reach audiences in each community that is affected by health disparities and health inequities.

By Tiffany D. Spencer and Kianta Key

Fun Vine Video Styles for Public Health

The new mobile video app, Vine, burst onto the social media scene in late January 2013 when Twitter acquired and integrated it into their microblogging site. A free video-sharing platform, Vine has distinguished itself in the social space by relying on brevity with videos limited to 6 seconds in length. Much like early adopters of Twitter, Vine users have dazzled viewers with just how much creativity, innovation, and information they can pack into one 6-second clip. Resource-strapped groups can use the app to record and publish engaging content—all within one app.

While questions surfaced in mid-February regarding the new tool’s security, GSA approved the use of Vine by federal users, and several videos have emerged in recent weeks from across agencies, including NASA, the Interior Department, and So, not to be outdone, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite Vine styles below for use within public health.

The Sketch Artist

This video style is great for representing checklists, textual information like hashtags and weblinks, and showcasing the development of other visuals like brainstorming sessions.

Public health use case: CDC’s NPIN used the sketch artist style by merging several quick recordings together to show development of a checklist for their webcast series.

NPIN Vine 1

(Click on image above to view Vine video)

The Magician

Stop-motion recording is a great way to condense action that happens over an extended, more-than-6-second period of time, by suggesting the movement of inanimate objects using quick clips.

Public health use case: Youth Against AIDS followers showed the elimination of HIV with a Pac-man-style head eating away at the word representing it.

NPIN Vine 2

(Click on image above to view Vine video)

The Tour Guide

Viewers love getting a sneak peek, so give them the inside scoop by previewing event preparations, product rollouts, or by giving tours of your office.

Public health use case: CDC’s NPIN generated buzz about their upcoming webcast by showing the set-up process of equipment required for the event.

NPIN Vine 3

(Click on image above to view Vine video)

The Teacher

With these short, looping videos, Vine is great for showing viewers how to perform simple but important behaviors, like how to lay a baby in a crib or how to make a fruit smoothie.

Public health use case: This Vine’r teaches viewers a quick and easy way to get energy at work by running in place.

NPIN Vine 4

(Click on image above to view Vine video)

The Prop Master

Using a prop in a video is a great way to easily represent big ideas quickly, especially when paired with a statistic to increase health topic awareness.

Public health use case: This Vine’r slowly reveals a tobacco death rate statistic (“Tobacco kills every 6 seconds”) with a burning cigarette. (We also really like their clever incorporation of a statistic that also relates to the video length.)

NPIN Vine 5

(Click on image above to view Vine video)

Bonus: The Mini-sode

We haven’t found a public health version of it yet, but we’d love to see your ideas about how to create a series of related Vine episodes. These Tribeca Film Festival finalists, however, show some adventures of a Lego Batman, book beetle, and wooden Pygmalion characters.

By Katy Capers

LinkedIn for Public Health

LinkedIn public health 1LinkedIn is the world’s leading professional social network. With more than 200 million subscribers, the platform has become the premiere online space to network, job search, research industry topics, and join business interest groups. For public health organizations, there are a number of features and tools within LinkedIn that should be used to help expand your network, reach target groups, and expand your resources and expertise. The following outlines the opportunities and challenges within public health associated with each feature.

Create a Profile

Everyone on LinkedIn needs to create a personal profile to interact on the network. Establishing a profile is an excellent opportunity to showcase your public health background, projects, and skill set. With a profile, you are able to join discussion groups, receive updates from connections and industry experts, job search, and be recruited for positions that fit your expertise.

The challenge with creating a profile is that it requires regular updating. As a representative of both your own personal brand and that of your organization, it is important to ensure that the information you relay is reliable, accurate, and consistent with others in your field.

Build a Company Page

LinkedIn public health 2Company pages allow organizations to tell their story and connect individuals to their brand. With this platform, public health providers can highlight the latest news and updates, upcoming events, as well as products and services. Establishing a presence on LinkedIn that showcases your agency’s expertise and promotes the resources and tools unique to your organization helps further the mission and helps your organization reach its governmental and private partners and stakeholders.

The challenge with developing a company page is that it can be resource-intensive. Someone should be updating and monitoring the information daily, as well as responding to any feedback from the page. In addition, the best company pages are those that include relevant, up-to-date, and engaging information.  If your organization’s clearance process is rigorous, it could hinder the process for adding timely information to the page.


For public health professionals, joining LinkedIn groups is an excellent way to network with colleagues and partners from the same industry. You can join discussions, get updates from other public health professionals about the latest news and events, as well as trade best practices and lessons learned.  LinkedIn members are able to join up to 50 groups, and, currently, more than 1,400 public health-related groups are available within the LinkedIn professional network.

Organizations that choose to start groups may benefit from LinkedIn as well.  Create a LinkedIn group and solicit feedback about your projects and campaigns, provide relevant information to other public health practitioners, and ensure the discussions about your public health campaigns are informed and helpful to your partners and stakeholders. LinkedIn allows for the creation of both open and private groups, which makes it easier to facilitate small or large discussion groups. Also, LinkedIn provides the ability to view the “Top Influencers” in the group. If you know the connections that are moving your discussions along, this could help with dissemination of important information, both in and out of the LinkedIn sphere.

The challenge with groups is that they can also be resource-intensive. To keep people engaged at the federal, state, local, and private levels, you have to constantly update with new discussion materials that are interesting to those groups. Another challenge is ensuring that someone monitors the group discussions on a regular basis to keep the conversation consistent and relevant. There is also a danger of irrelevant or inappropriate comments being posted in the discussion group page. It is easy to delete comments and individuals from a group, but it is a challenge to continually monitor the activities on the platform.

Recruitment Tools

LinkedIn is rich with recruiting aids for any public health organization.  One particularly helpful tool is the advanced search function. It allows you to search for LinkedIn subscribers by industry, titles, region, and language. Organizations looking for international candidates can narrow their search by using key categories. Advertise positions using LinkedIn ads is a great way to gain additional attention to an open position. Advertising through LinkedIn discussion groups or on a company page is also an easy way to spread the word about jobs. If your organization needs a little more help with recruiting efforts, LinkedIn does offer Talent Solutions. With this service, LinkedIn consultants can do the heavy lifting and help your agency find the right candidates for your job openings.

Your organization should consider your budget when thinking about what recruiting tools you would like to use on the LinkedIn channel.  To add a career tab to a company page, your organization has to subscribe to a premium membership. There are also some costs associated with both LinkedIn Advertising and Talent Solutions. Determining a budget, therefore, should be a part of any strategy around using LinkedIn for your organization.

Use the LinkedIn Tools

LinkedIn public health 3There are a number of tools within the LinkedIn platform that your organization may find useful. LinkedIn polls, for example, allow users to pose questions on other social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Public health professionals can use this medium to get a quick pulse on various subjects.

If your organization decides to pose a question, it should probably be assessed through your internal clearance process.  As mentioned before, this may prevent the timely posting of polls. This may also affect your response rate, as polls on hot issues are more likely to promote a response.

LinkedIn and its third-party partners also created mobile tools that help with strengthening connections. Cardmunch, for instance, helps you organize contacts. Business cards can be scanned into your phone and then connected to your LinkedIn contacts.  ProInsights, a third-party LinkedIn developer, designed a mobile app that creates infographics based on LinkedIn profiles. This is a creative way to illustrate your organization’s expertise to partners and stakeholders.

Of course, the challenge with any mobile tool is that there are many devices, with many operating systems, and serving different levels of mobile users.  You should research the availability of each application based on your mobile technology. If your organization decides to use the tool, training on the applications should be made available.

As of April 2013, LinkedIn is the third largest social network in the world, and it is continuing to grow. If you are not currently harnessing the resources of LinkedIn for your organization, you should certainly be researching the possibilities. For more information about the platform, particularly for public health purposes, check out CDC NPIN’s SlideShare presentation and webcast In the Know: LinkedIn and SlideShare for Public Health. How is your organization using LinkedIn for public health purposes?

 By Tracye Poole

Celebrating Autism Awareness Month

Autism_awarenessFor some of us, it’s that time of year again. April is Autism Awareness Month, and, just 2 years ago, President Obama asked the nation to recognize April 2nd as Autism Awareness Day, a day to bring light to what is a growing public health concern.

While public perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) has evolved over the years, for the other half of us, April 2nd is just another early spring day. When I ask my friends and family who are far removed from the mental health field what they know about autism, I hear things like, “All people with autism are savants in some way,” or “All people with autism are mentally retarded.” Often, the stereotypical rocking child comes to mind. Most have never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (HFA).

These myths and stereotypes are most likely due to poor mental health education and fueled by film and television that popularize interesting, yet uncommon aspects of the disorder. The effect is that children and families struggling with this developmental disorder have to fight ignorance and stereotypes everywhere in their life.

So, what should people know about autism? ASD is currently thought to affect 1 in 88 children, and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is characterized by social, cognitive, and communicative impairments. However, most children with autism develop at a similar rate as their non-autistic peers, many have average or above average IQ, and not all display language problems or repetitive behaviors, particularly those with HFA or Asperger’s. More than likely, you know or knew someone at your high school or university that is affected by ASD. And, most importantly, not all cases of autism look the same from person to person. This makes education about and for autism complex and important.

ao_09-01-10Danya has a rich history in autism education. We have developed programs and products to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and support from experts in the field and families affected by ASD. Currently, Danya is offering free viewings for research-based, high-quality videos from our autism products online. Videos to promote social inclusion in elementary and middle school settings by teaching neurotypical peers about ASD and increasing awareness about autism in elementary school staff; videos to support adolescents and young adults with ASD in planning, applying for, and transitioning into a postsecondary educational setting; and videos to reduce stress and anxiety in caregivers of individuals with autism across the lifespan are all available to view now on AutismOnline’s YouTube channel.

Currently, the Danya team is working on an educational curriculum for parents of teens with autism to teach their child about relationships, dating, sexuality, and sexual health. An interactive, web-based video game for teens is also being developed as a complement to the course.

So, what can you do to recognize Autism Awareness Month and celebrate all that science and research has done for this developmental disability? I suggest you strive to tell one person, whether it be a friend, coworker, or neighbor, about Autism. Let them know what you know and ask them to share this information with another person themselves in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

If you want to learn more about ASD, or about other ways you can support Autism Awareness Month, please check out some of these important sites. Connect with Autism Speaks and help them “Light it up Blue” on April 2nd. Visit the Autism Science Foundation to help support autism research, or check out AutismOnline, Danya’s website devoted to providing research-based, effective resources, products, and information on ASD across the lifespan.

By Amanda Bowen

Mobile Tools for Nutrition Month

I am a person who has struggled with weight issues for most of my life so, like many of you, I have heard every weight loss and nutrition tip in the book. My doctor has suggested that I join a support group like Weight Watchers and start going back to the gym. She has also suggested it might be helpful if I read some health and nutrition literature, started calorie counting, and ate more meals at home. These are all great ideas that have proven to work for others in the past but, after a lifelong struggle, I knew that traditional methods for losing weight didn’t necessarily work for me.

I stay pretty busy, both in my personal and professional lives, so I am on the go and I need tools and resources that move with me. I know what changes I need to make: Eat less and exercise more. But how do I do it? When do I find the time? With so much information out there about what to eat and what not to eat, how do I decipher what is truly the best approach? Well, like 31 percent of mobile users, I decided to turn to the mobile universe to help me on my quest.  In honor of March’s National Nutrition Month, I have compiled some of my favorite tools that have helped me in my nutrition journey so far.

Get Advice from Experts
My doctors recommended I see a nutritionist, but I don’t necessarily have access to one as often as I like. One mobile application (app) from Bakedweb brings a registered nutritionist right to my device. I can take note of the meals I am eating, and then receive an analysis from a dietician who will offer advice about what habits will help me to lose weight and stay healthy.

foodeducatedRead Labels

Fooducate is a mobile app that won first place in the United States Surgeon General’s Healthy Apps Challenge. It provides label information and allows you to learn more about what’s in your food. Fooducate boasts the largest database of product codes and provides food details on more than 200,000 products. I can look at serving size, ingredients, and calories to decide what foods make sense for my nutritional goals.

Track Calories

With Livestrong’s Calorie Tracker Lite, I have the ability to track both calories and my exercise routine within one mobile app. CDC noted on their site that “When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is – calories count!”  There are a number of calorie trackers out there, but I like this one because has a strong history of developing nutritional products that help with lifestyle changes. This particular tool keeps me motivated because it is easy to use, free (a paid version is also available), and includes a support forum to help me with nutritional questions. Livestrong has included a great mobile rewards component that provides additional incentives for me to use the app and make better food choices.

Stay Healthy When Eating Outdiet mobile

Making my meals instead of eating out is always the healthier option. But when I am out, the HealthyOut mobile app helps me find restaurants with better food choices more easily. I can search for specific dishes, calories, or common dietary needs, like “heart healthy” or “gluten free,” and the app will direct me to the nearest location. This is especially helpful when I’m in unfamiliar neighborhoods or traveling.

With these digital resources, I have already lost 22 pounds by using tools that make sense for my lifestyle. It’s been tough, but I will continue to look for innovative resources that help me reach my goals. Are you looking to make healthier food choices? What digital tools are helping you reach your goals?

By Tracye Poole

Twitter for Public Health

Twitter bird holding red AIDS ribbon in its beak.Even if you don’t tweet, you’ve seen the blue bird and you’ve heard it Twitter. The popular microblogging service enables people to share 140 character messages (tweets), spread each other’s messages (retweets), and participate in online conversations using hashtags (#).

That familiar blue bird is carrying a lot of public health messages these days. Twitter is a potent tool for health communicators for several reasons, including its open nature, which allows us to follow and respond to anyone’s tweets; and the character limit, which helps us spread our message in concise and plain language.

Under a contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Danya has been tweeting for the National Prevention Information Network (NPIN) since 2009. In that time, we have watched many state and local health departments and health service organizations turn to Twitter to spread health information.

As Danya evaluation expert Michael Fitzpatrick points out in his recent post on the next frontier of measurement, public health’s social media challenge is successful engagement. Research out of Brigham Young University notes that many public health departments and organizations use Twitter and other social media as one more channel to push out content. The focus tends to be on the “media” aspect—pushing out information—and organizations miss out on the “social” engagement aspect of social media.

Within government, public health organizations face difficulties that include making the social media case to leadership, allocating enough staff resources to allow for social media engagement, and creating engaging content. Other challenges include developing voice and tone, striking a balance with approval processes so the fast response needed on Twitter is not inhibited, and managing reputation concerns.

Ways Forward

Despite the challenges, a number of health departments and organizations are using Twitter to creatively and effectively engage the public. Here are several success stories we explored in detail in the February 19 “Twitter for Public Health” webcast, the first in a series of In the Know: Social Media for Public Health webcasts that Danya is producing for NPIN.

Program Improvement

Philadelphia Office of HIV Planning (@hivphilly) uses Twitter to extend the reach of community workshops, enabling more people in their large service area to participate. They live tweet from workshops, ask for feedback on Twitter, and use the responses to further develop their programs.

Multi-Channel Campaign

CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response (@CDCemergency) took advantage of the popular culture zombie trend to create a multi-channel “Zombie Apocalypse” campaign on emergency preparedness. It morphed from a blog post into everything from a graphic novel to an educator’s Web site. CDC was as relentless as a zombie in spreading the campaign through every available channel, including Twitter.

Close-up of female zombie peering through window blinds.


Increase Media Coverage

Shelby County Health Department in Tennessee (@ShelbyTNHealth) uses Twitter in their press strategy. They follow and tweet to local reporters and disseminate highlights from their press releases. Twitter is enabled on staff smartphones so they can tweet whenever they have a minute during their busy days.

Use of Popular Culture for Public Health Messages

The American Public Health Association (@PublicHealth) took advantage of the Super Bowl to promote related health messages using the #SuperBowl hashtag. They tweeted about healthy snacks, drinking and driving, and flu vaccination. When the half-hour blackout hit, they took advantage of the unexpected opportunity with the tweet below, which was widely retweeted. Check out the response on Storify.

Screen capture of American Public Health Association tweet, “Power outages can disrupt more than football games. Know how to be prepared with our Get Ready fact sheet.”

Respond to Disease Outbreaks/Emergencies

Philadelphia Department of Health (@PHLPublicHealth, @PDPHFlu) tweeted information about H1N1 and monitored responses. A local mother tweeted to them that she was told by one of their clinics that her child could not be vaccinated. The health department reached out to her, identified the clinic, and had the staff retrained by the end of the day.

Community of Practice

CDC NPIN (@CDCNPIN) hosts a monthly Twitter chat, #NPINchat, which brings the public health community together to discuss topics such as the latest news, research and resources, and observances. NPIN has held regular chats since its June 2010 Twitter Town Hall for National HIV Testing Day, and over time they have developed into a community of practice where people exchange information and experiences.

Innovative Applications

New applications are turning Twitter into a supplemental surveillance system, enabling health departments to monitor local diseases and illnesses in real time.

MappyHealth uses Twitter data to track and analyze disease terms, reporting on them by condition and location. It won the “Now Trending: #Health in My Community” developer’s challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It also owes its existence to Twitter—the app’s two co-founders met via a tweet.

In January, Johns Hopkins University announced a new algorithm to track influenza cases via Twitter. “When you look at Twitter posts, you can see people talking about being afraid of catching the flu or asking friends if they should get a flu shot or mentioning a public figure who seems to be ill,” explained Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Department of Computer Science. “But posts like this don’t measure how many people have actually contracted the flu. We wanted to separate hype about the flu from messages from people who truly become ill.”

Consumer-oriented applications also are being developed such as Sickweather, which tracks social media posts that reference illnesses and displays trends by location. Sickweather also shows illness patterns over time and allows members to report their illness directly and share information with friends through social networks.

Public health use of Twitter is evolving rapidly, especially regarding message distribution, behavior surveillance and monitoring, and evaluating health-focused initiatives. We’ll continue to blog as new trends emerge, but please leave a comment if you have Twitter for public health success stories, lessons learned, or resources to share.

If you missed February’s Twitter for Public Health webcast, you can view it as a recording or a slide deck. We invite you to join the next NPIN webcast, “LinkedIn and SlideShare for Public Health,” on Tuesday, March 12 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. eastern time. Get more information and register today!

By Cynthia J. Newcomer

DHCX 2013: Ten Takeaways

Last week, several Danya team members journeyed from the bitter cold of Silver Spring, Maryland, and Atlanta, Georgia, to warm and sunny Orlando, Florida, for the second annual Digital Health Communication Extravaganza (DHCX). This growing conference of digital and health experts isn’t your run-of-the-mill industry meeting; instead, “advanced users” give presentations to their audience of experts; participants discuss new and creative ideas across a variety of networks; and the conference schedule provides ample opportunity for professional engagement.

With 3 action-packed days to recap, here’s a quick look from DHCX 2013 at our top 10 takeaways on what digital outreach means for public health:

  1. Repurposing tactics. The future of digital health includes wielding old tricks in new ways. Some of these new ideas include Lit 2 Quit using mobile device games with breath therapy to give smokers a non-nicotine rush and the Missing Children Society of Canada using social networks to find missing children.
  2. Sharing and socializing. David Strong from comScore found that the largest shift in online health behaviors is to community support and watching other people’s experiences.
  3. Challenging the norm. Public health has yet to have that breakout moment that is followed by conversation, duplication, and adoption. A panel led by Danya’s Senior Director for Communication Strategy and Digital Erin Edgerton discussed the need for the government and health worlds to think outside of the box (like Oreo or Movember), and become more responsive in meeting the health consumer where they are with the right message at the right time.
  4. Going mobile. With a 134-percent increase in audiences seeking health information from 2011 to 2012, there’s no doubt that mobile and personal digital health are exploding. Michael Smith from WebMD suggested that because mobile feels more personal, secure, and private to the consumer, deeper engagement with mobile health will only continue to increase.
  5. Engaging patients. Public and digital health teams are creating more engaged patients by leveraging the power of advancing mobile technologies. Consumers want personal, intuitive, quick, and easy mobile apps that are built on “snackable” content.
  6. Predicting behavior. Gaming in public health can serve more than just helping to modify a behavior or increasing knowledge. By capturing and measuring what a player does in a health game, games can also serve as proxies to predict real-life behaviors and circumvent poor behaviors before they even happen.
  7. Socializing with purpose. According to Craig Lefebvre (@chiefmaven), “object-centered sociality”—the reason two people talk to each other, and not someone else—is driving our online health conversations. If people can connect within mass or niche networks about a shared health experience, similar health concerns, or in-common health topics, then they are socializing with purpose.
  8. Re-evaluating evaluation. When measuring and evaluating social media, digital health innovators are seeking more meaningful data than likes, fans, and retweets. Instead, we should be working to improve engagement tracking by measuring consideration, commitment, and advocacy, and establishing new standards for overall social media measurement.
  9. Keeping pace. Compared to the often clearance- and regulation-heavy world of public health, technology and hardware advance at an unstoppable rate. Data scientists looking to measure the influence digital outreach has on health should consider new experiment designs like multi-phase longitudinal, adaptive, or “N of 1” designs.
  10. Chunking content. As federal agencies continue to develop open content and product systems within public health, communicators must be intentional in creating messages for these systems that are still meaningful and relevant. Those who focus on creating messages of different sizes, varying literacy level, and for different audiences will be most successful.

By Katy Capers

Exploring Evaluation: Latest Trends in Social Media Metrics and Evaluation

“Exploring Evaluation” is a new blog series devoted to exploring the rapidly growing field of social media metrics and evaluation. In an industry like public health where page views and clicks don’t always translate to improved patient outcomes, we’ll take a look at the latest trends, lessons learned, and possibilities for more meaningful evaluation data. Stay tuned for additional posts in the series with specific evaluation tactics covering Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more.

Public health communicators have a responsibility to deliver effective, engaging messages that reach their target populations. Fortunately, analytics tools have become more prolific and sophisticated, and allow us to know more about our audiences than ever before. The metrics and evaluation world has now reached a point where companies have numerous strong options for both Web site analytics and social media monitoring software. Omniture and Google Analytics, for example, have been enhancing their product offerings to include more robust site tracking. Other companies like Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly Radian6), Lithium, and Sysomos have been working to create comprehensive analytics platforms targeted strictly at tracking social media activity. With growing industry expectations and increasing capabilities, the logical next step, which has already begun, is the integration of these two types of measurement for even stronger evaluation and analysis.

Companies want to know how their social media activity is affecting their consumer’s actions, particularly on their Web sites (that is, “Is all of my social media activity through Facebook and Twitter actually driving any action from my target audience?”). Web analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Omniture have already begun integrating with social media monitoring tools such as Radian6. Companies also have been manually tagging links they place throughout the social media universe to track the level of response, compare data across various social media channels, and measure results against their other forms of advertising and communication. This allows us to understand our audiences more. If we know where they are coming from and what channels are most responsive, we can target our efforts effectively. Now that more analytics are working together, we can cut down on the time it takes to compile data. When it comes to resources, analytic tools that allow us to consolidate efforts and be more productive are assets to public health missions.

In addition to tracking the level of response from social media activities, companies also have been closely monitoring the activity of visitors after they arrive at the company’s Web site. Consensus about what works and doesn’t shouldn’t be just an internal effort. Analytics allow us to get into users’ heads  and get closer to the complete picture. Conversion funnels and goal tracking are often used to analyze not only how much traffic is being driven to the site through social media activity, but also how successful each channel has been in terms of producing conversions. Conversion rates can then be compared across the various social media and advertising channels to analyze which are most successful in terms of producing the desired results on the Web site. This type of analysis can play a key role in optimizing your marketing and advertising activities to achieve the best possible results. Within the public health sphere, the ability to change behavior is our  return on investment. Feedback from both the populations we serve and our partners is essential to determining whether we should move forward with our campaigns or identify other pathways.

While many companies have gotten a hold of their Web analytics and social media monitoring, it is this integration and holistic approach to truly analyzing the success of social media activity that will be the next frontier in digital media metrics.

This flow chart shows how when a tweet with a Web site link is posted, results from social media monitoring software and web analytics software integrate to provide Twitter statistics such as impressions/reach, retweets, and key influencers, and web analytics such as click-throughs, Web site activity, and conversion rates tied to the Twitter post. This leads to a complete view of social media activity success, which then can be compared across other marketing, advertising, and communication channels, which allows you to optimize your social media, marketing, advertising, and communication activity based on the results.

By Michael Fitzpatrick