We Can’t Afford to Lose the National Center for Health Marketing

When the new director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden, took his position in early June, it was inevitable that he would make some changes — perhaps even some big changes. I believe I speak for many social marketers in saying we were very hopeful that health marketing (the CDC’s name for social marketing) would fare well in the new administration.

Unfortunately, I have just found out that the National Center for Health Marketing (NCHM) is slated to be eliminated. What this means exactly for the practice of health marketing within the CDC is unclear, but it bodes poorly for the field of social marketing overall.

On the heels of the NCHM’s highly successful Third National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM), which just brought together one thousand professionals who are using these tools to address disparate health issues from across the spectrum of the CDC’s purview, this news raises a big question: What will be the future of the conference, which serves a different role in the US social marketing community from other professional events? This most recent conference, in mid-August, raised the profile of the CDC as an innovator and enabler of organizations and agencies across the country (and beyond) on the cutting edge of social marketing initiatives.

After the NCHM has made so much progress in advancing the field of social marketing and integrating these methods into public health practice, it would be a giant step backwards to lose this bastion of expertise and have its staff dispersed. We need only look at the UK’s National Social Marketing Centre to see the approach getting the prominence within government that it deserves as a tool that works for prevention. The US needs to be a leader in social marketing, and this will knock us from that position.

While the fledgling social marketing association is not quite in position to address this issue as a unified voice for our field, those of us who care about social marketing should individually make our opinions known to Dr. Frieden to ensure that social marketing will continue to play a prominent role in the work of the CDC. I believe this is best achieved through a focal point of expertise like the NCHM that can implement best practices throughout the agency and host events like the NCHCMM conference. Barring that, I hope that Dr. Frieden somehow comes up with an even better alternative.

What are your ideas for how we can best address this issue as a field?

China’s PR Olympics

I hope that when the International Olympic Committee meets in its cushy offices on the shores of Lake Geneva to do its postmortem of this year’s games, they have the honesty to admit that the choice of Beijing as Olympic host was a huge mistake (they won’t, of course). While the Chinese people certainly have the Olympic spirit running through their veins (and the Chinese athletes have probably had an IV drip in place since they were seven), the Chinese government did exactly what many human rights activists feared. I’ve already written about all the reasons why China should not have been awarded the games, so on the heels of the Olympic closing ceremony, let’s look at the results.

After enduring what seemed like plagues of Biblical proportions in the months running up to the Olympics (the earthquake, locusts, tons of algae covering the Olympic sailing venue, choking pollution and more), China overcame them all to put on a blockbuster show for the world. The opening ceremony dazzled fans and critics alike, but the “One World” theme would have been profoundly more meaningful if China would actually let its citizens join the rest of the world rather than surrounding them with firewalls.

Every aspect of the Olympic production was carefully orchestrated to show that China deserves to stand alongside the other nations of the world, and to showcase what China has to offer. Unfortunately, this $40 billion spectacle was created on the backs of the Chinese citizens, who the government spared no opportunity to repress in the interest of global PR. Whether it was the thousands of dissidents who were preemptively arrested prior to the influx of outside reporters, the hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents who were displaced to make way for Olympic venues without compensation, or the “undesirables” — the homeless, beggars, and street vendors — who were rounded up and sent to detention centers, I cannot look at the beautiful stadiums without thinking about the price extracted by the government to erect them.

The Chinese Olympic Committee provided assurances that things would change if they were awarded the games. They would open more access to the internet, offer opportunities for protest, allow outside reporters to have freedom in what they reported. This resulted in temporary access to some Western media sources online, which has now been clamped closed. The protest zones were empty, not because everybody was suddenly happy, but because the government arrested everyone who applied for a permit to demonstrate, including two elderly Chinese women, who were sentenced to a year in a labor camp, and at least eight American bloggers and activists sentenced to 10 days in detention. If anything, the iron fist of the government tightened during the Olympics rather than loosened.

Along the way, though, the Chinese government’s carefully constructed PR facade started showing some chinks in its armor (pun definitely NOT intended!). It was revealed that the opening ceremony’s technically amazing fireworks display included some CGI effects. A picture perfect girl was actually lip-synching to the beautiful voice of another girl, who had been deemed too unattractive to represent China. The children representing the 56 ethnic groups in China were all from the Han majority. Many sold-out events were played in front of half-filled stands to prevent the gathering of large uncontrollable crowds. And the question remains whether the Chinese government issued passports to underage gymnasts so they could compete on behalf of the country.

All this is not to say that the Olympics themselves were defective. To the contrary, the athletes that gathered from all over the world to compete exemplified the best of Olympic values, and bear no complicity in the shameful activities of the Chinese government’s preparations for the games.

Now it’s back to business as usual for China — though with a shiny new veneer of acceptability by many of the world’s citizens. We can hope that the brief encounter that the Chinese people had with the free world will be a catalyst for change from within. But none of the world’s leaders — including President Bush, who attended the opening ceremony in Beijing — have said much to counter the PR cover-up. The athletes who joined Team Darfur, or others who might have felt free to make a political statement in any other country, avoided any controversial statements, worried that, like Joey Cheek, their visas would be revoked and they would not be allowed to compete.

China definitely got what it wanted out of the deal. And the rest of us got a spin job.

Photo Credit: nataliebehring.com

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Fred Thompson: Not the Public Health Candidate

I have no idea who I will be voting for yet, as the presidential candidates make their way through the early primary states. But I do know who I will not be voting for: Fred Thompson.

From CNN:

Fred Thompson wants the government to keep its hands off your dinner plate.

That’s what he told a questioner Tuesday in South Carolina, anyway.

Standing about 15 feet away from a mouth-watering steam tray buffet loaded with fried chicken, creamed corn and macaroni and cheese at Wade’s Southern Cooking in Spartanburg, Thompson dismissed the idea that preventative care and wellness education should be central features of a government’s health care system.

“I’m telling you, I don’t think that it’s the primary responsibility of the federal government to tell you what to eat,” Thompson said to applause when asked if his health care plan included any details on preventative care, a priority for Democratic candidates.

“The fact of the matter is we got an awful lot of knowledge,” said the former Tennesse senator. “Sometimes we don’t have a whole lot of will power, and I don’t know of any government program that’s going to instill that.”

Thompson, ever a fan of small government, said healthy living should be the responsibilities of families first.

Since when is preventive care and health promotion a partisan issue? Can he not see that helping people get healthier will save government health care costs down the road? Will somebody please tell him about social marketing?

At least Thompson understands that knowledge is not sufficient for bringing about change, but he needs to be educated about the many federally funded programs that are “instilling will power” and resulting in healthier, more productive and less health care-utilizing citizens. He’s right that families are the first line of defense in building a healthy lifestyle, but many people do not have the knowledge or skills to make it happen on their own.

I hate to think what would happen to the CDC with him in charge.

Photo Credit: South Iowa

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Looks Like We Made It! (Entertainment Education Safe Once Again)

My Washington correspondent reports that on Monday evening, the final conference report of the Labor-HHS bill was filed. She said:

I’ve been told that the conferees (the House-Senate negotiators) dropped the Ryan amendment – leaving funding for CDC’s Entertainment Education program intact. We’re pretty excited.

The House is scheduled to approve the bill on Tuesday with the Senate following suit later this week. Then the bill will be sent to the President. He is expected to veto the bill (unrelated to our issue) because it spends more money than he’d like. Then the House and Senate will have to start all over again on the same bill.

That said… I think we can declare victory. I don’t think Rep. Ryan or Sen. Coburn will try to offer their amendments on a future Labor-HHS bill this year.

Yippee! She also felt that the pressure from the public health community was invaluable. So kudos to all of you who emailed, called or faxed to try to save entertainment education!

Photo Credit: paşanın yeri

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Get Your Fax in Gear — Final Push for CDC Entertainment Education Funding

A new dispatch from my very own unnamed Deep Throat in DC:

On Tuesday, the Senate approved its Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008; the bill preserves funding for the CDC’s Entertainment Education program (background here). This victory is due to the staunch support for the program shown by the public health community. Now, our attention turns to the House-Senate conference committee that will negotiate a final bill to send to the President. We need to urge the conference committee to remove the Ryan amendment previously approved by the House, which would eliminate funding for CDC’s Entertainment Education program. We believe the conference committee will wrap up its work and send a bill to the President by November 1st.

We can mobilize one more time to make sure that the funding remains in the final bill. We’ve already seen that by showing our support for the effectiveness and importance of the EE approach, we were able to convince those in the Senate that this funding is not a “boondoggle.” I could see that individuals from the House and Senate visited my blog to read what had been written about the amendment. Let’s make sure that they continue to feel the pressure. We only need to persuade four people this time.

At this point, sending a fax will be most effective. Copy and personalize the suggested letter below, sign and date it, and send one copy to the House and one to the Senate. Here are the fax numbers and letter:

Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Specter – (202) 224-2100
Chairman Obey and Ranking Member Walsh – (202) 225-9476


Chairman Tom Harkin
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Washington, D.C. 20510

Ranking Member Arlen Specter
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Washington, D.C. 20510

Chairman David Obey
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Washington, D.C. 20515

Ranking Member James Walsh
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members:

As the House and Senate conference the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008, I am writing to share my support for the CDC’s Entertainment Education Program. This is an important public health tool which utilizes the power of popular mass media to educate Americans about healthy behaviors.

During House consideration of the Labor-HHS bill, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) successfully offered an amendment to eliminate funding for the program. I urge you to remove this amendment as you develop the conference report.

The CDC’s Entertainment Education Program fosters the use of factual health information in television shows and promotes the incorporation of important and timely public health messages into television programming. Funding for this program allows the CDC to reach out to television writers with written materials and experts on a wide range of public health issues, to respond to requests from television writers, producers, and researchers, and to ultimately connect them with experts who can provide factual information.

According to the 2005 HealthStyles (Porter Novelli) study, nearly three out of 10 (28%) regular television viewers took one or more actions as a result of a television health storyline, such as telling someone about the health topic, calling a hotline or visiting a clinic. Under the guidance of the CDC’s Entertainment Education Program, more than 400 television episodes contained public health information, including more than 82 major storylines.

Please support effective approaches to improve public health – remove the Ryan amendment during conference consideration of the Labor-HHS bill. Thank you.


Please fax your letter by October 31st. I’ll keep you informed of any news I learn. Thanks for your support!

Photo Credit: Daniel Berger

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Legislative Success!! (for now)

Thanks to the efforts of many people, Senator Coburn removed the provision to eliminate funding for the CDC’s Entertainment Education program from his proposed amendment before it even made it to the floor for a vote (here’s the background if you are just joining the story now). High fives all around!

So, as it stands now, the Senate version of the HHS appropriations bill leaves the funding intact, while the House version has it eliminated. From my limited policy knowledge, I believe the next step will be for the House and Senate to reconcile the two versions of the bill in conference. I will let you know when and how we can try to influence that process when the time comes.

We made a difference! (And, no, I don’t receive any funding myself from this program. It’s the principle of the thing.)

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