Research & Insights

Reducing Racial Health Disparities With The Right Messages

African American males suffer higher rates of mortality and chronic diseases and one reason is that they tend to be less physically active than their white counterparts. As a result, researchers from the University of South Carolina and Arizona State University are examining a number of messaging strategies to encourage African American men to increase their physical activity.

Public health scholar Daniela Friedman from the University of South Carolina and her colleagues wanted to learn how to engage African American men, particularly middle-age and older men, in physical activity. To do this, they interviewed 49 physically active and non-active African American men for “recommended strategies for promoting physical activity to African American men of their age.”  Their results were published in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Health Communication.

In the study, three main strategies emerged. First, the researchers suggest the use of word of mouth from social networks like spouses, family members, and peers.

Second, they suggest partnering with mass media to get the message out. The researchers note that “more inactive participants suggested working with the media to promote a physical activity program. Many recommended a combination of culturally targeted radio and television channels.” For example, one participant recommended, “I would market it through the churches or market it through ESPN. I would market it through anything to do with sports. Get it on TV, radio, and through the fraternities.”

Third, they suggest that campaigns should “[b]e strategic in placement of marketing materials.” The researchers suggest that campaigns should “partner with churches, businesses, fraternities/social organizations; involve African American men in development of culturally relevant and motivational messages that relate to quality of life and the importance of being healthy for their families.”

Churches were particularly important. The researchers note that “Church was mentioned by most participants, especially among middle-aged active and older inactive men, as an important place for promoting physical activity among African American men.”

In terms of message content, the study notes that spokespersons should be chosen strategically. Participants suggested that spokesperson should be: “a good role model, a community leader (e.g., mayor), an active community member, educated, a clergyman, and an effective speaker.”

Messages should also focus on health benefits. For example one participant suggested, “I think I’d go at it from a health perspective…the quality of life issue, how it would help you feel better, sleep better, maybe help you with severe medical issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, or whatever and longevity. You know, if you want to live a longer life you know a better quality of life you’ll have to get up off the couch and do something.”

Other message suggestions included the importance of staying healthy for your family (“Your family needs you. Your family wants you around,” one participant noted), the racial dimensions of health disparities, and language that taps into motivating and fear-based emotions for reaching African-American men.

If public health campaigns want to reach African-American men, using their suggested strategies can be an effective tool.

Journal of Health Communications

Daniela B. Friedman, Sara Wilcox, Ericka L. Burroughs and Carol E. Rheaume, University of South Carolina, Columbia
Steven P. Hooker, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Posted: July 1, 2015
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