4 - COMMENTARIES H e a lt h A w a r e n e s s D a y s S u f...

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COMMENTARIES H e a lt h A w a r e n e s s D a y s : S u ffic ie n t E v id e n c e t o S u p p o r t t h e C r a z e ? | Jonathan Purtle, DrPH, MPH, MSc, and Leah A. Roman, MPH Health awareness initia- tives are a ubiquitous inter- vention strategy. Nearly 200 health awareness days, weeks, and months are on the US National Health Ob- servances calendar, and more than 145 awareness day bills have been introduced in Con- gress since 2005. We contend that health awareness days are not held to appropriate scrutiny given the scale at which they have been embraced and are mis- aligned with research on the social determinants of health and the tenets of ecological models of health promotion. We examined health aware- ness days from a critical public health perspective and of- fer empirically supported recommendations to ad- vance the intervention strat- egy- If left unchecked, health awareness days may do little more than reinforce ideolo- gies of individual responsi- bility and the false notion that adverse health outcomes are simply the product of mis- informed behaviors. (Am J Public Health. 2015;105: 1061-1065. doi:10.2105/AJPH. 2015.302621) TODAY IS NOT LIKE EVERY other day, or at least it is supposed to be unique. Chances are, today is designated as one of the nearly 2 0 0 health awareness days, weeks, or m onths on the US De- partm ent of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) National Health Observances (NHO) calendar.1 The health awareness day—to our knowledge first defined by Mulvi- hill as a “brief exposure, high visibility program designed to stimulate thinking and discussion of certain health risks and issues by large numbers of [people] ”2<p32l)—is an intervention strategy well known to public health practi- tioners, policymakers, and the public alike. Although the ubiquity of awareness days might be self- evident, data suggest that health awareness days have proliferated over the past four decades (Figure 1). A legislative search revealed that 202 bills have been intro- duced in the US Congress with “awareness day” in the title since 1973, with 71 % of them intro- duced after 2 005.3 The awareness day has also received increasing attention in the health science lit- erature. A November 10, 2014, PubMed search for entries with “awareness day” or “awareness days” in the title or abstract re- trieved 80 results, with the trend in publication volume corresponding with the trend in bills introduced.4 Despite the frequency with which awareness days are implemented and written about, relatively little public health scholarship has crit- ically examined the intervention strategy. For example, the 2011 Joint Committee Report on Health Education and Promotion Terminology, which contains a glossary of key term s to the work of the profession, does not provide a definition for awareness or awareness day.5 In addition, many widely used health promotion textbooks do not discuss the con- struct of awareness.5,7 As a result, the public health literature pro- vides little guidance concerning fundamental questions that should be considered before developing
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  • Spring '15
  • shishm
  • American Journal o f Public Health

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