E. Michele Ramsey
Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group.
Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females.
While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country.
The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Alexie Hays, and Ryan Maliski
The parent–child relationship is one of the most influential, important, and meaningful relationships in an individual’s life. The communication between parents and children fuels their bond and functions to socialize children (i.e., gender, career and work, relationship values and skills, and health behaviors), provide social support, show affection, make sense of their life experiences, engage in conflict, manage private information, and create a family communication environment. How parents and children manage these functions changes over time as their relationship adapts over the developmental periods of their lives. Mothers and fathers may also respond differently to the changing needs of their children, given the unique relational cultures that typically exist in mother–child versus father–child relationships.
Although research on parent–child communication is vast and thorough, the constant changes faced by families in the 21st century—including more diverse family structures—provides ample avenues for future research on this complex relationship. Parent–child communication in diverse families (e.g., divorced/stepfamilies, adoptive, multiracial, LGBTQ, and military families) must account for the complexity of identities and experiences in these families. Further, changes in society such as advances in technology, the aging population, and differing parenting practices are also transforming the parent–child relationship. Because this relationship is a vital social resource for both parents and children throughout their lives, researchers will undoubtedly continue to seek to understand the complexities of this important family dyad.
Davi Johnson Thornton
Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.
The ACT2 Program and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in HIV and AIDS Clinical Trials: A Case Study in Health and Risk Messaging
Marya Gwadz and Amanda S. Ritchie
It is well documented that African American/Black and Hispanic individuals are underrepresented in biomedical research in the United States (U.S.), and leaders in the field have called for the proportional representation of varied populations in biomedical studies as a matter of social justice, economics, and science. Yet achieving appropriate representation is particularly challenging for health conditions that are highly stigmatized such as HIV/AIDS. African American/Black, and Hispanic individuals, referred to here as “people of color,” are greatly overrepresented among the 1.2 million persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Despite this, people of color are substantially underrepresented in AIDS clinical trials. AIDS clinical trials are research studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of promising new treatments for HIV and AIDS and for the complications of HIV/AIDS, among human volunteers. As such, AIDS clinical trials are critical to the development of new medications and treatment regimens. The underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials has been criticized on a number of levels. Of primary concern, underrepresentation may limit the generalizability of research findings to the populations most affected by HIV/AIDS. This has led to serious concerns about the precision of estimates of clinical efficacy and adverse effects of many treatments for HIV/AIDS among these populations. The reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color are complex and multifaceted. First, people of color experience serious emotional and attitudinal barriers to AIDS clinical trials such as fear and distrust of medical research. These experiences of fear and distrust are grounded largely in the well-known history of abuse of individuals of color by medical research institutions, and are complicated by current experiences of exclusion and discrimination in health care settings and the larger society, often referred to as structural racism or structural violence. In addition, people of color experience barriers to AIDS clinical trials at the level of social networks, such as social norms that do not support engagement in medical research and preferences for alternative therapies. People of color living with HIV/AIDS experience a number of structural barriers to clinical trials, such as difficulty accessing and navigating the trials system, which is often unfamiliar and daunting. Further, most health care providers are not well positioned to help people of color overcome these serious barriers to AIDS clinical trials in the context of a short medical appointment, and therefore are less likely to refer them to trials compared to their White peers. Last, some studies suggest that the trials’ inclusion and exclusion criteria exclude a greater proportion of people of color than White participants. Social/behavioral interventions that directly address the historical and contextual factors underlying the underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials, build motivation and capability to access trials, and offer repeated access to screening for trials, hold promise for eliminating this racial/ethnic disparity. Further, modifications to study inclusion criteria will be needed to increase the proportion of people of color who enroll in AIDS clinical trials.
Kami J. Silk and Daniel Totzkay
The Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program (BCERP) is a transdisciplinary program of research created to investigate environmental exposures and their relationship to breast cancer with a particular focus on puberty as a potential window of increased susceptibility to environmental exposures. A transdisciplinary approach has a strong focus on translating scientific findings into usable health practices as well as health prevention messages so that current research informs practice as well as communication to the lay public. BCERP engaged in communication science to develop health messages for lay audiences, health professionals, and outreach organizations. The precautionary principle, used as a primary guide in regards to message translation and dissemination, yields a useful discussion of the BCERP organizational structure. An exploration of formative communication science efforts in BCERP, areas of sensitivity for creating BCERP messages, and resources created for BCERP toolkits serves to illustrate and describe this one approach to designing health and risk messages.