One Size Does Not Fit All: Five Tips for Creating Successful Minority Health Education Campaigns

By Kim Blake (@kimkblake)

Each February, we focus on our hearts.  I’m not talking about Valentine’s Day, but rather the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.  The goal of the campaign has been to shift awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of women, which was at just 30% in 1997.  Today, 56% of all women are now aware of the devastating impact of heart disease.

However, a new study shows that we still have room for improvement among African-American and Hispanic women. In particular, this is important because African-American women have the highest risk of heart disease and Hispanic women have the highest risk of diabetes, which is often linked to heart disease.  The new report from the American Heart Association demonstrates that awareness has grown among these audiences (from 15% among African-American women and 20% among Hispanic women in 1997 to 36% and 34% awareness, respectively), but that there remains a significant gap.

Has the American Heart Association tried to do too much by focusing generally on women with “Go Red”?  Probably not, as substantial progress has been made, overall.  However, successful minority health education campaigns require a more tailored approach.

Interestingly, when researching successful minority health education campaigns, I found very few examples.  One standout was Rap-It-Up, a 15-year partnership between BET and the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is the largest public education effort on HIV/AIDS and related issues directed specifically toward African-Americans.  Six years into the program, a survey found that more than half of all African-Americans (58%) and 9 in 10 (92%) African-American 18 – 24 years olds had heard of Rap-It-Up. After reviewing the campaign, I couldn’t help but think of two successful awareness campaigns that PadillaCRT helped develop on behalf of our clients: Let’s Get Real and Reggae-TONE Your Body/Ponte en Forma con Reggaeton. 

Bon Secours Hampton Roads, a health system, collaborated with PadillaCRT to create Let’s Get Real, a program to address the high incidence and death rate from heart disease among African-American women in the region it serves.  PadillaCRT helped develop Reggae-TONE Your Body for client AMERIGROUP Corporation, who manages publicly-funded health programs, with a goal of increasing healthy habits among the organization’s Hispanic members.

Based upon the learnings of these programs, I’ve identified five tips for creating successful minority health education campaigns.

1)      Partner with relevant people and organizations.  Health education campaigns are not generally compelling on their own.  It’s important to bring in key community leaders and organizations to make them relevant to your target audience.  They also help to provide a sanity check to ensure that your program will resonate with the community.  For Let’s Get Real, Bon Secours Hampton Roads partnered with churches, the local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and a well-respected news anchor to help deliver their message to the community.  Rap-It-Up involved musicians, athletes and actors and had the powerful media platform provided by BET.

2)      Incorporate healthcare professionals in a relatable way.  Healthcare professionals play a critical role in helping people reduce their risk for conditions such as heart disease, but they are not universally trusted.  In fact, a recent study showed that Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to report lack of trust in medical professionals.  With this in mind, Reggae-TONE Your Body and Let’s Get Real each took healthcare providers outside the clinical setting and incorporated them in events where participants could ask questions in a non-threatening group environment, such as a Q & A session or panel discussion.  For non-English speaking audiences, it’s especially important to ensure that the participating healthcare professional is bi-lingual and that all campaign materials are written in relevant languages.

3)      Don’t make your audience come to you.  The beauty of the Rap-It-Up campaign is that it incorporated information with existing BET programming.  There was a mobile element that took the message out to festivals and community events.  People didn’t need to do anything outside their regular routine to absorb the campaign message.  For Reggae-TONE Your Body, we were able to effectively reach Hispanic families by hosting events in local community centers and shopping malls where we knew our target audience gathered.  Similarly, Let’s Get Real hosted events in large churches, often following services.

4)      Inject fun in information.  Heart disease isn’t fun and talking about it certainly isn’t interesting for the average person.  The same goes for HIV/AIDS prevention, but Rap-It-Up managed to make it interesting with a mobile tour, including teen forums, and a short subject film competition.  Let’s Get Real’s Rhythm of Life program wove African dance movements and music into an exciting aerobic workout.  Reggae-TONE Your Body involved participants in an Iron Chef-style cooking competition, judged by a celebrity chef from Telemundo.  At the end of each of these memorable programs, participants would leave with more information about their risk for a particular condition and something that they could do to help reduce that risk. 


5)      Give people something to do.  Information sticks with people when they have to apply it through some kind of action.  Each of these campaigns asked the target audience to participate in some way.  As mentioned before, Rap-It-Up involved participants in a short-subject film competition.  Let’s Get Real’s Tree of Life program showed people how to map out their family heart history using a special family tree.  Reggae-TONE Your Body events taught high-energy reggaeton dances and culminated in a competition, judged by local radio and television personalities.

In healthcare, our education campaigns tend to focus on reducing your risk.  When it comes to creating an effective minority health education campaign, the real risk is taking a one-size-fits-all approach.



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