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It all comes down to truth: Stanford med student digs in on public-health campaigns

While interning in the World Health Organization’s media unit in Delhi this summer, Stanford medical student Michael Nedelman found himself contemplating a question many public health officials and advertisers have struggled with for years: What makes an effective public-health campaign?

Much of the global burden of disease is associated with behaviors that are recognized as being detrimental to health, but – as Nedelman points out in an editorial called Fire with Fire – our current approach to public-health messages and health warnings doesn’t seem to be working.

Take smoking for example. In the 1990s, teen smoking was on the rise, despite the egregious statistics and daunting warnings that tobacco kills. But rather than scaring teens away from smoking, the national "truth" campaign took an unconventional approach. “Instead of dialing up the emotion of their ads, the truth campaign appealed to a different set emotional sensibilities, like humor, and let teens arrive at their own conclusions,” writes Nedelman.

In the editorial and three-part podcast episode (the first of which is above), Nedelman dissects the common “fear-based” trap that cause many public-health advertisements to fall flat and takes a deeper look at campaigns like the "truth" anti-smoking crusade that have been successful in changing behavior and compelling the public to care.

Nedelman is currently taking a year off from medical school to serve as the Stanford-ABC News Global Health and Media Fellow. Tune in for future episodes from his podcast series, Acoustic Nerve, here.

Rachel Leslie is the communications officer at Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Previously: A behind the scenes look at the Stanford-ABC News Fellowship in Media and Global HealthUN's top health official: Anti-tobacco efforts can lead to better health "in every corner of the world"Study shows anti-tobacco programs targeting adults also curb teen smoking and Europe launches campaign to get young smokers to stop

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