UGA receives $3.5 million CDC grant to create center in health marketing and health communication


The University of Georgia has been awarded a three-year $3.5 million grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a new center aimed at improving the health of the poor and near poor living in the South through better health communication and marketing.

The Southern Center for Communication, Health and Poverty will focus on reducing health disparities by discovering how the South's poorest and disproportional African-American populations respond to health risks and then developing interventions that can help them make sound health decisions. The Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute will assist in administrating the center grant.

"The poor suffer more from almost every health risk and disease," said Vicki Freimuth, professor of speech communication and journalism and principal investigator for the center grant. "Communication and marketing can reduce these gaps but first we must learn more about making risk messages relevant and culturally appropriate for the southern poor."

The new UGA center is one of two Centers of Excellence in Health Marketing and Health Communication recently funded by the CDC Office of Public Health and its "Health Protection Research Initiative." This research program was designed to discover strategies and tools that increase the ability of health departments, physicians and other health care providers to promote health and prevent diseases, injuries or disabilities.

At UGA, the center brings together a network of health researchers from the Department of Speech Communication and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, as well as investigators from the Terry College of Business, the Institute for Behavioral Research and the Department of Sociology.

Collaborating organizations outside UGA include the Morehouse School of Medicine, the University of Alabama, the Georgia Division of Public Health and ORC Macro, a private sector firm with extensive experience in health communications and marketing.

In addition to conducting specific research studies, the center will focus on four core activities: research, communication and marketing, public health workforce development and administration. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Jeff Springston will direct the research core while Grady's Dean Krugman will co-direct the communication/marketing core with Doryn Chervin from ORC Macro. The public health workforce development core will be led by Don Rubin, Department of Speech Communication, while Freimuth will direct the administrative core.

The center will conduct a pilot study assessing the ways low income individuals respond to multiple health risks, as well as two major research studies addressing two different health issues genetic predispositions to disease and smoking.

The first research study, led by speech communication research professor Celeste Condit, will focus on understanding how people process personalized genetic risk information.

"If you add 'genes' to a list of possible risks for a disease, many low income people see it as something they can't change," said Condit. "We are looking to see how their health behaviors are shaped by such fatalistic attitudes and create messages that motivate these individuals to overcome them and adopt better long term health behaviors."

For the second study, speech communication associate professor Jennifer Monahan and colleagues at the University of Alabama will examine adolescents' attitudes toward smoking.

"Messages people give to adolescents about smoking risks tend to be very rational messages. Kids, however, tend to be more experiential, or more about feeling and doing, than logical in their thinking," she said. The group will use this information to develop anti-smoking media messages that effectively address this adolescent decision making style.

Freimuth and Chervin are co-investigators on the pilot study that will look at the sources low income individuals use when weighing health decisions and the depth in which they process messages about risk.

All three studies will examine the relationship between race and socioeconomic class to see if there are differences in the way African Americans and white Americans respond to health risks.

"Addressing health disparities is an area where there is a lot of work needed," said Freimuth. "The center will be able to respond to this need and work toward helping Americans benefit equally from new advances in health and medicine."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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