Nav: Home

Do awareness days make a difference? Yes, at least one

March 31, 2016

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (March 31, 2016) -- Break out the brochures: World Autism Awareness Day is just around the corner. As is World Health Day, World Dolphin Day, Earth Day, World Lupus Day, and the list goes on and on. One federal catalog includes 212 separate health-focused awareness days.

Despite their ubiquity, it's hard to know whether awareness days actually make a difference. That's because traditional methods, like telephone surveys, cannot be linked to a single event occurring on a single day. A recent review of awareness days, for instance, found that there was next to no evidence on their impact.

A new study led by San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health research professor John W. Ayers, just published by JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, showcases a method for teasing out the impacts of awareness days using big data and finds that at least one awareness day is having a big impact.

Evaluating awareness days

The team of public health and computer science experts measured the impact of the Great American Smokeout, one of the longest running awareness events held annually on the third Thursday of November to promote smoking cessation. Since 2009, the team analyzed news reports on smoking cessation and Tweets encouraging cessation emerging from the United States to see if the Great American Smokeout's message was heard and shared.

They then checked if Americans engaged with that message by seeking resources to aid smoking cessation on Google and Wikipedia, or by calling quitlines that offer live counseling on how to quit.

"This strategy allowed us to observe how awareness days typically unfold in both the media and in the minds and actions of individuals," said study co-author Benjamin Althouse, a research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling and the Santa Fe Institute, and lead analyst for the study. "We can track how a cessation message moves across news and social media, and ultimately how the public reacts by seeking out additional information on how to quit."

Compared to what would be expected on a normal day, the Great American Smokeout typically coincided with a 61-percent increase in news reports on cessation and a 13-percent increase in tweets encouraging cessation. In practical terms, this was the second-highest daily news coverage of smoking cessation in several years, only falling short of New Year's Day.

Cessation-related Google searches, like "help quit smoking," typically increased by 25 percent on the Great American Smokeout, with visits to the Wikipedia cessation page and calls to quitlines typically increasing by 22 and 42 percent, respectively. This public engagement with smoking cessation translated into about 61,000 more instances of unique Google searches, Wikipedia visits, and calls to quitlines annually than expected.

Improving awareness days

"The Great American Smokeout is having a significant impact that far eclipsed our expectations for awareness days," Ayers said. "But just as important, our study shows how we can rapidly and efficiently evaluate hundreds of awareness days, many for the first time."

Lee Westmaas, a scientist with the American Cancer Society and coauthor of the study, added that newly available data mean awareness days can have even larger impacts going forward.

"The Great American Smokeout is one of the nation's oldest and most well known awareness days," Westmaas said. "Yet, these data finally allow us to understand the reach of our efforts and make improvements."

The advent of the big data era not only impacted the team's ability to understand awareness days, but also potentially increased their impact.

"For the first time in history, the public can access and share information immediately, and instantaneously engage in improving their health via their smartphones," said Mark Dredze, assistant research professor at Johns Hopkins University and data architect for the study.

These findings, moreover, reinforce the role of awareness days. "A cost-efficient and well-focussed message coming from the public on a single day, like the Great American Smokeout, can potentially yield impacts just as large as paid media campaigns," said Eric Leas, a student of health communication at the University of California San Diego and study coauthor.

For example, Google searches for cessation during the Great American Smokeout rivaled those observed in the team's latest evaluation of the CDC's Tips from Former Smokers campaign.

"More work remains ahead, but these are some optimistic findings and implications."

Still, not all awareness days may be similarly impactful. For instance, there are nearly a half dozen awareness days that promote smoking cessation alone, like Kick Butts Day. What is the impact of replicate days? Do all awareness topics similarly resonate across the public? These and similar questions are now open to study for the first time, according to Adrian Benton, a computer science student at Johns Hopkins University and study coauthor.

"Public health can readily adopt and expand our approach to evaluate like campaigns, and make data-driven decisions for planning and targeting awareness days."

The team is crowdsourcing funds to continue investigating additional awareness days through Benefunder.

"More must be done to evaluate and improve awareness days," Ayers concluded.
-end-
About San Diego State University

San Diego State University is a major public research institution that provides transformative experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, for its 35,000 students. The university offers bachelor's degrees in 94 areas, master's degrees in 78 areas and doctorates in 22 areas. Students participate in research, international experiences, sustainability and entrepreneurship initiatives, and a broad range of student life and leadership opportunities. The university's rich campus life features opportunities for students to participate in, and engage with, the creative and performing arts, a Division I athletics program and the vibrant cultural life of the San Diego region. For more information, visit http://www.sdsu.edu.

Media Contacts:

John W. Ayers, Public Health Surveillance Expert
San Diego State University
(619) 371-1846 c
ayers.john.w@gmail.com

Benjamin M. Althouse, Data Analytics Expert
Institute for Disease Modeling & the Santa Fe Institute
(425) 777-9615
althouse@santafe.edu

Mark Dredze, Computer Science Expert
Johns Hopkins University
(410) 516-6786
mdredze@cs.jhu.edu

Eric Leas, Doctoral Candidate
University of California, San Diego
(619) 346-9131
ecleas@gmail.com

J. Lee Westmaas, Cancer Control Expert
American Cancer Society
(404) 329-7730
lee.westmaas@cancer.org

Adrian Benton, Doctoral Candidate
Johns Hopkins University
(410) 516-4050
adrian@cs.jhu.edu

San Diego State University

Related Public Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Public health experts celebrate 30 years of CDC's prevention research solutions for communities with health disparities
It has been 30 years since CDC created the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program, currently a network of 26 academic institutions across the US dedicated to moving new discoveries into the communities that need them.
Public health experts support federally mandated smoke-free public housing
In response to a new federal rule mandating smoke-free policies in federally funded public housing authorities, three public health experts applaud the efforts of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to protect nonsmoking residents from the harmful effects of tobacco exposure.
The Lancet Public Health: UK soft drinks industry levy estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children
The UK soft drinks industry levy, due to be introduced in April 2018, is estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children, according to the first study to estimate its health impact, published in The Lancet Public Health.
Social sciences & health innovations: Making health public
The international conference 'Social Sciences & Health Innovations: Making Health Public' is the third event organized as a collaborative endeavor between Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and Tomsk State University, the Russian Federation, with participation from Siberian State Medical University (the Russian Federation).
Columbia Mailman School Awards Public Health Prize to NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T.
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was awarded the Frank A.
Poor health literacy a public health issue
America's poor record on health literacy is a public health issue, but one that can be fixed -- not by logging onto the internet but by increased interaction with your fellow human beings, a Michigan State University researcher argues.
Despite health law's bow to prevention, US public health funding is dropping: AJPH study
Although the language of the Affordable Care Act emphasizes disease prevention -- for example, mandating insurance coverage of clinical preventive services such as mammograms -- funding for public health programs to prevent disease have actually been declining in recent years.
'Chemsex' needs to become a public health priority
Chemsex -- sex under the influence of illegal drugs -- needs to become a public health priority, argue experts in The BMJ this week.

Related Public Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...