We all know that community-based prevention is important. So why is the public so often unaware of what community prevention1 does for them? And if it’s so important, why does public health and prevention funding always get cut when national, state, and local budgets get tight?
To answer these questions, a number of leaders2 in the prevention community got together to conduct public opinion research.3 The research included 20 in-depth interviews with public health officers, business leaders, and elected officials nationwide; 7 focus groups with active, influential members of the general public in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kansas City; and a nationwide Web-based poll with 900 members of the general public, including a 200-person Latino oversample, to clarify what public health and business leaders, elected officials, and the general public think about community prevention. Then we tested messages about community prevention.
It is our collective hope that all stakeholders with an investment in keeping the public healthy – from local health departments to the business community and beyond – will use these messages to move decision makers and the public toward greater support. Speaking in a unified voice and using tested messaging will help us build a prevention majority in this country.
Our findings show that Latinos(as) are a particularly receptive audience to our community prevention message. Below are some of the most important findings from our polling results with Latinos(as) which you can use as you tailor your communications to this audience.
Latinos(as) Prioritize Prevention and are Inclined Toward a Community View
- Latinos(as) think that we are not doing very well in terms of health and prevention in this country. The grade they give Americans’ is similar to the general population (most commonly, they give us a D).
- Latinos(as) give health and wellness even higher priority ratings than general population, with over a third of respondents saying that prevention – including community prevention – should be a very high priority in this country (10 on a scale of 1 to 10).
- Over two-thirds of Latino(a) respondents support investing in community prevention, even if it means raising taxes.
- Latino(a) respondents were more inclined to identify with a “community view” of prevention than the general population, stating more often that there are things that communities can do to make healthy choices easier for individuals and families, even before reading our messaging.
- Latinos(as) gave high ratings to examples of community prevention programs and policies, and also rated strategies combining these programs very favorably, with the highest ratings going to a strategy aimed at improving children’s health starting in schools.
- Latinos(as) were generally supportive of targeting certain communities to address health disparities, and prefer the words “certain neighborhoods” to describe these communities (66% in favor) over the phrase “racial and ethnic minorities or people who have lower incomes” (61% in favor).
- Latinos(as) in our survey would be much more likely to vote for a local elected official who supports community prevention (75% said they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate).
The Best Messages for Latinos(as) Are About Kids, Aspirations for the Future
- Talk about kids. “Kids are our future, and to have a healthy future, we must help our children grow up healthy. [Insert your example or story here. One example: We need to focus on improving nutrition at schools including getting rid of the junk food, make sure healthy fresh food is available at home, and that there are clean and safe parks in every neighborhood where kids can play. It’s the least we can do for our kids to grow up healthy.]”
- Invoke aspirations for the future. “Community prevention is good for our economy. By focusing on healthy lifestyles and healthy choices, we will reduce 80% of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, especially for children. Not only will we save on health care costs, our productivity will go up, our community will attract good employers and good jobs, and we will live healthier, happier lives.”
- Acknowledge that communities have different needs. “Every community is different. We need a combination of strategies to help make our communities healthier. For example, in communities without safe places to walk, we should make sure that enough police are out patrolling, and that crosswalks are visible to cars. In communities without big grocery stores, we should help smaller stores stock fresh produce. Let’s find the right strategies for our community, and let’s make them happen by working with community groups and elected officials to get things started.
- Link community prevention to personal prevention, and invoke urgency. “It’s important to get preventive care, like checkups, vaccinations, and mammograms—but we need to do more. We need to change the way we eat, move, and interact so that health and prevention become priorities every day and not just when we get sick. [Insert your example or story here. One example: This will help us combat diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, especially for children. These chronic diseases contribute to seven in ten deaths in the U.S. right now, and 75 percent of our current national health care costs. We owe it to ourselves to change this.]”
Remember These Principles of Effective Messaging
1 – Values and beliefs outweigh facts. To move the public, including Latinos(as), we must first connect with their deeply held beliefs.
2 – Know your audience. Latinos(as) in our survey were younger than the general population and more often had children living at home. They also identified more often with the Democratic party.
3 – Use specific examples of community prevention, because people don’t necessarily know that prevention goes beyond things like mammograms and colonoscopies. These examples test well, but you can use any examples that relate to your goals:
- Ban smoking from public places
- Make school lunches healthier
- Label packaged foods to be clearer about which ones contain unhealthy amounts of fat, sodium, or sugar
- Get a discount on one’s health insurance premium if a person participates in a healthy living program
4 – Tell personal stories. Everyone connects better with a story of a real person. The best stories are told in the first person, by someone who has benefitted. Don’t give a long list of facts and figures. One or two well-chosen statistics can sometimes help – but less is definitely more.
Used consistently and over time, these messages can help us build a prevention majority in this country. Latinos(as) are likely to be among our strongest supporters so we should speak directly to them, using language that motivates them to act. Let’s keep the drum beat going.
Our research shows that the public prefers the term “community prevention” to “community-level prevention” or “community-level intervention. Our work group included the AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Public Health Association, APCO Worldwide, the California Endowment, Emory University, First Focus, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Mental Health America, the National Association of City and County Health Officials, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the National Academy for State Health Policy, Partnership for Prevention, SEIU, and Trust for America’s Health.