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Article

Health Disparities, a Social Determinant of Health and Risk: Considerations for Health and Risk Messaging  

Nancy Grant Harrington

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes between socially disadvantaged and advantaged groups. This essay provides a brief review of the voluminous literature on health disparities, with a focus on several major threads including populations of interest, incidence and prevalence of morbidity and mortality, determinants of health, health literacy and health information seeking, media influences on health disparities, and efforts to reduce disparities. Populations of interest tend to be defined primarily by socioeconomic status (income/education), race, ethnicity, and sex or gender; however, differences in sexual orientation, immigrant status, geography, and physical and mental disability are also of concern. Determinants of health can be categorized along a number of dimensions, but common designations consider behavioral, social, and environmental factors that lead to health disparities, as well as differences in access to health care and health services. Of central interest to communication researchers, differences in health literacy and health information seeking are revealed between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. Media influences involve the effects of access or exposure to different kinds of health information on the health behavior and health outcomes of different groups, as well as the effects of health disparity media coverage on public support for initiatives to reduce health disparities. Efforts to reduce health disparities are extensive and involve government and foundation efforts and research-driven interventions. Taking a broader view, this essay briefly discusses trends in scholarship on health disparities, noting the precipitous increase in academic journal article publications on the topic, including the publication of journals specifically focused on publishing health disparities scholarship. Future directions for research are suggested, and recommendations for interventions to improve health disparities offered by the Principal Investigators of the 10 Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities are presented. Finally, an annotated list of primary sources (books, special issues of journals, reports) and a list of sources for further reading are offered to provide a starting point for beginning scholars to orient themselves to research in health disparities.

Article

Worry and Rumination as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

Tamara D. Afifi, Ariana Shahnazi, and Kathryn Harrison

Rumination is typically thought of as pessimistic, repetitive thinking or mulling that is deleterious for one’s health. Rumination, however, can take several forms and is not always harmful. In fact, it could actually be helpful in certain circumstances. It is common and often helpful when something stressful happens, like a health scare or problematic health diagnosis, for people to ponder or reflect on why it happened and brainstorm potential solutions to it. This is referred to as reflective rumination. Rumination affects people’s risk perceptions related to their personal and relational health and decision-making about their health. Research on negative rumination and health and positive rumination and health focuses on the impact of these patterns of thinking on health outcomes such as mental health, physical health, and relational health and as perceptions of health messages and risk likelihood.

Article

Rhetorical Approaches to Health and Medicine  

Jennifer A. Malkowski, J. Blake Scott, and Lisa Keränen

Rhetoric, commonly understood as the art, practice, and analysis of persuasion, has longstanding connections to medicine and health. Rhetorical scholars, or rhetoricians, have increasingly applied rhetorical theories, concepts, and methods to the texts, contexts, discourses, practices, materials, and digital and visual artifacts related to health and medicine. As an emerging interdisciplinary subfield, the rhetoric of health and medicine seeks to uncover how symbolic patterns shape thought and action in health and medical texts, discourses, settings, and materials. In practice, rhetoricians who study health and medicine draw from the standard modes of rhetorical analysis, such as rhetorical criticism and rhetorical historiography, as well as from social science methods—including participant observation, interviewing, content analysis, and visual mapping—in order to deepen understanding of how language functions across health and medical objects, issues, and discussions. The objects of analysis for rhetorical studies of health and medicine span medical research, education, and clinical practice from laboratory notes to provider–patient interaction; health policymaking and practice from draft policies through standards of care; public health texts and artifacts; consumer health practices and patient advocacy on- and offline; public discourses about disease, death, bodies, illness, wellness, and health; online and digital health information; popular entertainments and medical dramas; and alternative and complementary medicine. Despite its methodological breadth, rhetorical approaches to science and medicine consistently involve the systematic examination and production of symbolic exchanges occurring across interactional, institutional, and public contexts to determine how individuals and groups create knowledge, meanings, identities, understandings, and courses of action about health and illness.

Article

Health Promotion and Risk Reduction in Congregations  

Dennis Myers, Terry A. Wolfer, and Maria L. Hogan

A complex web of attitudinal, cultural, economic, and structural variables condition the decision to respond to communications promoting healthy behavior and participation in risk reduction initiatives. A wide array of governmental, corporate, and voluntary sector health-related organizations focus on effective messaging and health care options, increasing the likelihood of choices that generate and sustain wellness. Researchers also recognize the significant and multifaceted ways that religious congregations contribute to awareness and adoption of health-promoting behaviors. These religiously based organizations are credible disseminators of health education information and accessible providers of venues that facilitate wellness among congregants and community members. The religious beliefs, spirituality, and faith practices at the core of congregational cultural life explain the trustworthiness of their messaging, the health of their adherents, and the intention of their care provision. Considerable inquiry into the impact of religion and spirituality on health reveals substantive correlations with positive psychological factors known to sustain physical and psychological health—optimism, meaning and purpose, hope, well-being, self-esteem, gratefulness, social support, and marital stability. However, the beliefs and practices that create receptivity to health-related communications, care practices, and service provision can also be a deterrent to message impact and participation in healthy behaviors. When a productive relationship between spirituality and health exists, congregational membership offers rituals (e.g., worship, education, mission) and relationships that promote spiritual well-being. Research demonstrates increased life satisfaction and meaning in life, with health risk reduction associated with a sense of belonging, enriched social interactions, and shared experiences. Congregations communicate their commitment to wellness of congregants and community members alike through offering a variety of congregationally based and collaborative wellness and risk reduction programs. These expressions of investment in individual and community health range across all age, gender, and ethnic demographics and address most of the prominent diagnostic categories. These programs are ordered along three dimensions: primary prevention (health care messaging and education), secondary prevention (risk education), and tertiary prevention (treatment). Applying the dimensions of sponsorship, goal/mission, focus, services, staffing, and intended outcome highlights the similarities and differences among them. Several unique facets of congregational life energize the effectiveness of these programs. Inherent trust and credibility empower adherence, and participation decisions and financial investment provide service availability. These assets serve as attractive contributions in collaborations among congregations and between private and public health care providers. Current research has not yet documented the best practices associated with program viability. However, practice wisdom in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of congregationally based and collaborative health-related programs suggests guidelines for future investigation. Congregational leaders and health care professionals emphasize well-designed needs assessment. Effective congregational health promotion and risk reduction may be linked to the availability and expertise of professionals and volunteers enacting the roles of planner/program developer, facilitator, convener/mediator, care manager/advocate, health educator, and direct health care service provider.

Article

Embarrassment and Health & Risk Messaging  

Spring Chenoa Cooper and P. Christopher Palmedo

Embarrassment, according to Fischer and Tangney, is an “aversive state of mortification, abashment, and chagrin that follows public social predicaments.” It is usually related to our perceptions of how others perceive us as well as their judgments of us, and it is associated with a loss of self-esteem when we perceive that others have judged us as inadequate or incompetent. However, even mere exposure or attention publicly placed on someone can elicit embarrassment (think of someone pointing at you and laughing). Embarrassment is considered a self-conscious emotion. Self-conscious emotions include those that are evoked by self-reflection and self-evaluation: embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride. Shame, an intense form of embarrassment, also has structural and larger social contexts, while embarrassment is more individually experienced. Self-conscious emotions play an important role in regulating behavior; they assist us in behaving according to social standards and guide us in responding when those rules are broken. While these emotions provide feedback in social situations, they also provide feedback for anticipated outcomes. Embarrassment can play an important role in health, both in communication and behavior, and occurs through different forms. Primary embarrassment is the first rush of blood to the face and increased heart rate that usually lasts a few moments. Secondary embarrassment is the after-effect that shapes future behavior. Anticipatory embarrassment is the emotion surrounding the potential for embarrassment in an upcoming situation. Solitary embarrassment is the one that no one actually observes. Three stigmatized areas of health—mental health, healthcare, and sexual health—may be assessed as case studies through which to understand the literature around embarrassment, as both an affect and an emotion.

Article

Health Literacy and Health/Risk Communication  

Michael Mackert, Sara Champlin, and Jisoo Ahn

Health literacy—defined as the ability of an individual to obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health information—contributes significantly to health outcomes and costs to the U.S. health-care system. Approximately one-quarter to one-half of U.S. adults struggle with health information, which includes understanding patient education materials, reading medication labels, and communicating with health-care providers. Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, those who speak English as a second language, and those of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to conceptualizing health literacy as an individual-level skill, it can also be considered an organizational or community-level ability. Increased attention to the field of health literacy has resulted in debates about the definition and the best ways to assess health literacy; there is also a strong and growing movement within the field of health literacy research and practice to frame health literacy less as a deficit to overcome and more as an approach to empowering patients and improving outcomes. As health-care providers have recognized the importance of health literacy, workshops, and training programs have been developed and evaluated to improve the care of low-health-literate patients. Similarly, health promotion professionals have developed best practices for reaching low-health-literate audiences with traditional and new digital media, which can also increase access for patients with hearing or visual impairments. Additionally, recent policy changes in the United States, including those related to the Affordable Care Act, contribute to a greater focus and regulation of factors that impact health literacy. Researchers and practitioners together are advancing understanding of health literacy, its relationship to health outcomes and health-care costs, and improved strategies for improving the health of lower health literate patients. Development and review of health literacy pieces can aid in shared decision making and provide insights for patients on various health-care services.

Article

Work as Opportunity and Problem When Trying to Impact Health and Risk  

Keri K. Stephens and Millie A. Harrison

Attention to population health issues is growing, and considering that people spend more time at work than in any other organization outside their home, worksites may offer a solution. For more than 30 years, many worksites have included programs to address employee health, safety, and risk. While some of these initiatives are mandated through legislation, other programs (e.g., workplace health programs (WHPs) or wellness initiatives) are often voluntary in the United States. Programs vary around the globe because some countries merge health, risk, and safety into one overarching regulated category, and there is a growing trend toward expanding these focus areas to include mental health and workplace stress. These programs can be quite innovative. Some interventions use technologies as prompts, such as mobile apps reminding employees to take medication. Other programs incorporate concepts from behavioral psychology and economics such as providing sleep pods at work and pricing healthy food in the cafeteria lower than high fat foods. Governmental incentives are offered in some countries that encourage employers to have WHPs. Yet despite the surface-level advantages of using the reach and access found in employing organizations to impact health, employees do not necessarily participate, and these programs are rarely or poorly evaluated. Furthermore, it is difficult to know how to make WHPs inclusive and how to communicate the availability of these programs. With the dual goals of directly impacting workers’ health and saving employers money, understanding how work can be a site for intervention is a worthwhile challenge to explore. WHPs struggle to achieve documentable objectives for several reasons; theory-driven research is suggesting new ways to understand what might improve the outcomes of WHPs. Privacy and surveillance concerns have dominated the WHP conversation in countries like the United States due to fears that health data might be used to fire employees. Another concern is the need to tailor workplace health messages for diverse cultures, ethnicities, and gender identities. Two other concerns relate the power differentials inherent in workplace hierarchies to overt and covert pressure employees feel to participate and meet what is defined as an ideal level of health. While these major concerns could be difficult to overcome, several theories provide guidance for improving participation and producing positive behavioral outcomes. Employees who feel a part of their organization, or are identified with their group, are more likely to positively view health information originating from their organization. Growing evidence indicates that certain technologies might also tap into feelings of identification and help promote the uptake of workplace health information. In addition, workplaces recognized as having norms for safety and health cultures might be more influential in improving health, safety, and risk behaviors. Recognizing boundaries between employee and workplace can also be fruitful in elucidating the ethics and legality of WHPs. Finally, program evaluation must become an integrated part of these programs to effectively evaluate their impact.

Article

Government-Driven Incentives to Improve Health  

Peter Anderson

Worldwide, key behavioral risk factors for ill-health and premature death include smoking, alcohol, too much or too little of several dietary factors, and low physical activity. At least three structural factors (biological attributes and functions, population size and structure, and wealth and income disparities) modify the global impact that the risk factors have on health; without accounting for these structural drivers, the effect of government-driven incentives to act on the behavioral risk factors for improved health will be suboptimal. The risk factors and their impact on health are further driven by malleable circumstantial drivers, including technological developments, exposure to products, social influences and attitudes, and potency of products. Government-driven incentives, which can be both positive and negative, can act on the circumstantial drivers and can impact on the behavioral risk factors to improve or worsen health. Government-driven incentives include a range of policies and measures: policies that reduce exposure; regulation of the private sector; research and development to reduce potency; resource allocation for advice and treatment; direct incentives on individual behavior; and, managing co-benefits and adverse side effects. Within a framework of government-driven whole-of-society approaches to improve health, an accountability system is needed to identify who or what causes what harm to health to whom. A health footprint, modeled on the carbon footprint is proposed as the accounting system.

Article

Presumed Media Influence in Health and Risk Messaging  

Shirley S. Ho and Andrew Z. H. Yee

Health communication research has often focused on how features of persuasive health messages can directly influence the intended target audience of the messages. However, scholars examining presumed media influence on human behavior have underscored the need to think about how various audience’s health behavior can be unexpectedly influenced by their exposure to media messages. Two central theoretical frameworks have been used to guide research examining the unintended effects: the third-person effect and the influence of presumed media influence (IPMI). The theoretical explanations for presumed media influence is built on attribution bias, self-enhancement, perceived exposure, perceived relevance, and self-categorization. Even though both the third-person effect and the IPMI share some theoretical foundations, and are historically related, the IPMI has been argued to be better suited to explaining a broader variety of behavioral consequences. One major way that presumed media influence can affect an individual’s health behavior is through the shifting of various types of normative beliefs: descriptive, subjective, injunctive, and personal norms. These beliefs can manifest through normative pressure that is theoretically linked to behavioral intentions. In other words, media have the capability to create the perception that certain behaviors are prevalent, inculcating a normative belief that can lead to the uptake of, or restrain, health behaviors. Scholars examining presumed media influence have since provided empirical support in a number of specific media and behavioral health contexts. Existing findings provide a useful base for health communication practitioners to think about how presumed media influence can be integrated into health campaigns and message design. Despite the proliferation of research in this area, there remains a need for future research to examine these effects in a new media environment, to extend research into a greater number of health outcomes, to incorporate actual behavioral measures, and to ascertain the hypothesized causal chain of events in the model.

Article

Optimism and Its Associations with Health Behavior and Responses to Health Communication  

Amanda J. Dillard and Erin M. Ellis

When individuals are asked whether they will someday own their own home, enjoy a productive career, or develop a myriad of diseases, many are optimistic. Generally, they think they will experience more good than bad outcomes in life and they view themselves as more likely than similar others to experience the good things and less likely than others to experience the bad things. In the area of health behavior and communication, there are three primary types of optimism that have been defined and operationalized: (1) Dispositional optimism is the generalized positive expectancy that one will experience good outcomes. (2) Comparative optimism refers to the belief that one is either more likely than others to experience positive events or less likely than others to experience negative events. (3) Unrealistic optimism refers to an underestimation of one’s actual risk of experiencing some negative event. Although the three types of optimism may be correlated, their associations may be modest. Also, unlike dispositional optimism, which is an individual difference, comparative and unrealistic optimism are often risk perceptions about specific events and therefore can be defined as accurate or inaccurate. For this reason, the latter two types of optimism have sometimes been labeled the optimistic bias. Research on all three varieties of optimism affords opportunities to understand how optimism influences information processing in a health message or one’s behavioral intentions following the message.

Article

Cultivation in Health and Risk Messaging  

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan

Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.

Article

Ethical Issues in Health Promotion and Communication Interventions  

Nurit Guttman

Health promotion communication interventions invariably raise ethical issues because they aim to influence people’s views and lifestyles, and they are often initiated, funded, and influenced by government agencies or powerful public or private organizations. With the increasing use of commercial advertising tactics in health promotion communication interventions, ethical issues regarding advertising can be raised in health promotion communication when it applies techniques such as highly emotional appeals, exaggerations, omissions, provocative tactics, or the use of children. Key ethical concerns relate to infringing on people’s privacy, interfering with their right to freedom of choice and autonomy, and issues of equity (such as by widening social gaps, where mainly those who are better off benefit from the interventions). Interventions using digital media raise ethical issues regarding the digital divide and privacy. The interventions may have unintended adverse effects on the psychological well-being of individuals or groups (e.g., by inadvertently stigmatizing or labeling people portrayed as negative models). They can also have an effect on cultural aspects of society (e.g., by idealizing particular lifestyles or turning health into a value) and raise concerns regarding democratic processes and citizens’ consent to the interventions. Interventions can have repercussions in multicultural settings since members of diverse populations may hold beliefs or engage in practices considered by health promoters as “unhealthy,” but which have important cultural significance. There are also ethical concerns regarding collaborations between health promoters and for-profit organizations. Identifying and considering ethical issues in the intervention is important for both moral and practical reasons. Several ethical conceptual frameworks are briefly presented that elucidate central ethical principles or concerns, followed by ethical issues associated with specific contexts or aspects of communication interventions.

Article

Communicating Religious Identities  

Renate Ysseldyk

Religion encompasses many forms of communication: between groups, within groups, and with God (or other deities). Such communication can be especially powerful when group members highly identify with their religious group and the beliefs therein. Equally, it can be divisive, as evidenced by religion-based intergroup conflict and intolerance (which often overlaps along ethnic or political lines). However, not all religious communication is verbal or explicit. Religious individuals also commonly transmit their beliefs, values, and identities through symbols, physical spaces, and music. Likewise, communication with God is often pursued with silent prayer, meditation, or ritual, which also serve to reinforce one’s spirituality alongside religious group boundaries. Taken together, these varying forms of communication have implications not only for religious intergroup relations (e.g., intergroup contact or conflict), but also for intragroup relations (e.g., the strengthening of social ties) and individual health outcomes (e.g., effective communication with health care providers and coping practices). Given the importance of religious identity for many individuals, the benefits for individual well-being and intragroup relations, and yet the intergroup strife that religious group divisions can incite, the ways in which we communicate our religious group identities deserve closer attention.

Article

Mood’s Role in Selective Exposure to Health and Risk Information  

Melissa J. Robinson and Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick

In today’s media-saturated environment, individuals may be exposed to hundreds of media messages on a wide variety of topics each day. It is impossible for individuals to attend to every media message, and instead, they engage in the phenomenon of selective exposure, where certain messages are chosen and attended to more often than others. Health communication professionals face challenges in creating messages that can attract the attention of targeted audiences when health messages compete with more entertaining programming. In fact, one of the greatest obstacles for health campaigns is a lack of adequate exposure among targeted recipients. Individuals may avoid health messages completely or counterargue against persuasive attempts to change their health-related attitudes and behaviors. Once individuals have been exposed to a health message, their current mood plays an important role in the processing of health information and decision making. Early research indicated that a positive mood might actually be detrimental to information processing because individuals are more likely to process the information heuristically. However, recent studies countered these results and suggested that individuals in positive moods are more likely to attend to self-relevant health information, with increased recall and greater intent to change their behaviors. Since mood has the ability to influence exposure to health messages and subsequent message processing, it is important for individuals to be able to manage their mood prior to health information exposure and possibly even during exposure. One way individuals can influence their moods is through media use including TV shows, movies, and music. Mood management theory predicts that individuals choose media content to improve and maintain positive moods and examines the mood-impacting characteristics of stimuli that influence individuals’ media selections. Therefore, an individual’s mood plays an important role in selection of any type of communication (e.g., news, documentaries, comedies, video games, or sports). How can health message designers influence individuals’ selection and attention to health messages when negative moods may be blocking overtly persuasive attempts to change behaviors and a preference for entertaining media content? The narrative persuasion research paradigm suggests that embedding health information into entertainment messages may be a more effective method to overcome resistance or counterarguing than traditional forms of health messages (e.g., advertisements or articles). It is evident that mood plays a complex role in message selection and subsequent processing. Future research is necessary to examine the nuances between mood and health information processing including how narratives may maintain positive moods through narrative selection, processing, and subsequent attitude and/or behavior change.

Article

Procrastination, Health, and Health Risk Communication  

Fuschia M. Sirois

Whether viewed as a domain-specific behavior or as an enduring tendency, procrastination is a common form of self-regulation failure that is increasingly recognized as having implications for health-related outcomes. Central to procrastination is the prioritization of reducing immediate negative mood at the cost of decisions and actions that provide long-term rewards, such as engaging in health behaviors. Because people tend to procrastinate on tasks they find difficult, unpleasant, or challenging, many health-promoting behaviors are possible candidates for procrastination. As modifiable risk factors for the prevention of disease and disability, health behaviors are often the target of health risk communications aimed at health behavior change and reducing health procrastination. Research has consistently demonstrated the deleterious effects of chronic procrastination on health outcomes, including poor physical health, fewer health promoting behaviors, and higher stress in healthy adults and those already living with a chronic health condition. Examining the factors and psychological characteristics associated with chronic procrastination can provide insights into the processes involved in procrastination more generally, as well as the qualities of the health messages that can promote or prevent procrastination of the targeted behaviors. Low future orientation, avoidant coping, low tolerance for negative emotions, and low self-efficacy need to be considered when designing effective health risk communications to reduce procrastination of health behaviors. Yet, health risk communications aimed at reducing procrastination of important health behaviors such as healthy eating, regular physical activity, screening behaviors, and cessation of risky health behaviors often use fear appeals to motivate taking protective actions to reduce health risks. Such approaches may not be effective because they amplify the negative feelings towards the health behaviors, which can engender maladaptive coping responses and motivate procrastination rather than adaptive responding. This is especially likely among individuals prone to procrastination more generally, or specifically with respect to health. Health risk communication approaches that minimize the negative emotions associated with risk messages and instead highlight short-term benefits of engaging in health behaviors may be necessary to reduce further health behavior procrastination among individuals prone to this form of self-regulation failure.

Article

Physiological Measures of Wellness and Message Processing  

Kory Floyd, Corey A. Pavlich, and Dana R. Dinsmore

Research has shown that the expression of affection and other forms of prosocial communication between two or more people promotes wellness and has the potential to increase life expectancy. The human body contains multiple physiological subsystems that all contribute to the overall health and well-being of an individual; the simple act of engaging in prosocial communication has been shown to positively influence one’s health and well-being. The specific benefits of engaging in prosocial communication are not limited to one specific physiological subsystem; it is the pervasiveness of this benefit that is so important. The benefits of prosocial communication range from building the body’s defense systems to increasing the effectiveness of recovery; in essence, prosocial communication increases the body’s overall integrity and rejuvenating power. These benefits have been observed for a variety of prosocial behaviors, including the expression of affection, touch, social support and cohesion, and social influence. The health benefits of prosocial communication point to the importance of considering prosocial communication when designing health and risk messages.

Article

Social-Ecological Approaches to Health and Risk Messaging  

Kirsty Williamson

Before health and risk messaging can have the best possible effect, there needs to be an understanding of what might influence health and associated risky behaviors. A wide range of elements needs to be considered, given the many possible influences on health habits and risky exposures. Since “ecology” is defined as the relationship between organisms and their environments, ecological models enable this consideration to be made. As a result ecological approaches have been widely used in health behavior, health planning, and health education. Ecological theory, with a communication focus, has also been developed, emerging specifically from the field of “information behavior.” Grounded in the work of Bronfenbrenner, on the experimental ecology of human development, the theory grew out of a study of older adults’ information and communication needs and uses, undertaken in the 1990s. The ecological model, as developed, enabled a wide range of personal and social influences on information seeking and communication to be explored with people aged 60 and older. Analysis of the impact of multilevel factors is facilitated by an ecological approach, increasing its value for the task of designing the content of health and risk messages. The “how” of designing health messaging is not addressed specifically by this approach. Following the study of older adults, the ecological model was broadened, modified, and applied to the study of the information and communication behavior of different community groups, involving a range of topics. The flexibility of the approach is a key strength. A study of information seeking, by women with breast cancer, indicated that several “ecological” elements, such as age, ethnicity, and stage of disease, played a part in the type of information sought and in preferences for how information was communicated. Health and risk avoidance implications emerged from a study of information seeking for online investment, providing another good example of the ways in which the model can be adapted. A range of ecological factors were shown to influence investing behavior, including level of risk taking. A study of people in the Fourth Age (the last stage of life) resulted in a further refined and extended model, as well as making a contribution to the already substantial body of accumulated gerontological knowledge.

Article

Culture, a Social Determinant of Health and Risk: Considerations for Health and Risk Messaging  

Juliet Iwelunmor and Collins Airhihenbuwa

We provide an overview on the role of culture in addressing the social determinants of health and risk. The fact that everyone is influenced by a set of locally defined forms of behavior means that while not overtly expressed, culture’s effects can be ubiquitous, influencing everything including the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping health and risk messaging. While the dynamic nature of culture is underestimated and often not reflected in most research, efforts to close the gap on social determinants of health and risk will require greater clarity on what culture is and how it impacts culture-sensitive health communication. Thus, the paper begins by reviewing why culture is so vital and relevant to any attempts to improve health and reduce health inequalities. We discuss what is meant by the term “culture” through a narrative synthesis of historical and recent progress in definitions of culture. We conclude by describing three distinct cultural frameworks for health that illustrate how culture can be effectively used as a vehicle through which to address culturally sensitive health communication in local and global contexts. Overall, we believe that culture is indispensable and important for addressing inequalities and inequities in health as well as for facilitating culture-sensitive health communication strategies that will ultimately close the gap on the social determinants of health and risk.

Article

Public Health and Community Organizing as Agents for Change in Health and Risk Messaging  

Paul W. Speer and Leah Marion Roberts

Agents of change serve as catalysts for stimulating social change, particularly at community and societal levels of analysis. We often think about the characteristics of individuals who act as change agents, such as their capacity to motivate others or their training skills. However, organizations and disciplinary fields can also serve as agents of change. There is an emerging awareness in the fields of public health and community organizing as to how these respective fields can collaborate to leverage their collective insights and skills to become effective agents of change for community health outcomes. Importantly, while public health is concerned with the social determinants that shape health inequities in all communities, community organizing is focused on community issues that residents confront as constraints or problems in their daily lives. There is an inchoate understanding within the fields of public health and community organizing that the social determinants addressed in public health are often the same issues identified and addressed by community organizing groups. Both disciplines work as agents of change through their traditional efforts; however, there is promise in the evolving collaborations between these two fields. Recognition that both fields are addressing the same community phenomena is an important step, but whether collaborations and shared practices become distributed and institutionalized is an open question. Public health possesses research and analytic sophistication capable of identifying different social determinants and the pathways through which such determinants contribute to poor community health outcomes. In contrast, community organizing supplies an understanding of social change that requires the exercise of power through the participation and active engagement by those most directly affected by local issues or social determinants. One tension in this emergent collaborative practice stems from the fact that, at times, these different disciplinary skill sets are at odds. Whereas public health has a deep value of data analysis and expertise, community organizing prioritizes the participation and self-determination of those impacted by community problems. Fundamentally, the tension here is between the value placed on expertise versus the value placed on public participation. Neither value is inherently superior to the other; understanding how these two values can complement one another to address social determinants that shape community health outcomes is critical for realizing the promise of these organizational agents of change.

Article

Rehabilitation Groups  

Toby Raeburn

“Rehabilitation groups” refers to community-based organizations which substantially rely on the work of volunteers to assist people with disabilities towards functional independence. One may differentiate between rehabilitation groups and clinical healthcare services by categorizing clinical services as being predominantly concerned with treatments designed to lower symptoms and cure ill health. Alternatively, rehabilitation groups focus their attention on delivering programs designed to assist people in regaining “functional independence” with or without the ongoing presence of symptoms. Common programs rehabilitation groups deliver are described as including but not being limited to the following: • Mental health rehabilitation: assisting people with lived experience of mental illness towards social and emotional wellbeing. • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation: facilitating recovery from abuse of and dependency on psychoactive substances such as alcohol and other drugs. • Physical health rehabilitation: improving physical and/or neurocognitive functions that have been diminished by ongoing effects of disease or injury. Major themes of communication influence rehabilitation groups and there are connections between the daily work of rehabilitation groups and the theoretical paradigms that influence them. Theoretical paradigms include social disability theory, recovery-oriented care, person-centered care, and cultural materialism.