Authors: Dr. Anita Mwalui: Community Engagement & Consultation Group Inc. Arda Bell: (Student Intern Health Education and Promotion- Towson University: Community Engagement & Consultation Group Inc.)
Communication allows for the transmission of information and can easily be carried out through several different channels. Effective messaging occurs when the audience understands the information being presented to it and can act on it. However, the right messaging format and structure can be difficult to achieve. The term ‘health messaging’ was coined by the International Communication Association in 1975, so the domain remains new (Freimuth & Quinn, 2004). The field of health communication is one of the most essential factors that has contributed to continued advancements in public health. With an ever-changing social, technological climate there are continuous adaptations we must make. Valuing diversity at all levels can aid in the dissemination of information and the design of public health policies.
Health and wellness differ from population to population or from community to community simply because health is the goal, while wellness on the other hand is a multidimensional evolving process. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as being “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” it also defines wellness as “the optimal state of health of individuals and groups” (World Health Organization, 2021). Merely saying the same thing with interlocking aspects of how processes of health and wellness impact our health and well-being.
The U.S. Census Bureau has found drastic demographic changes over the last few decades following the trend of a proportionally increasing Latino or Hispanic, Asian, and Black populations (US Census Bureau, 2020). Multicultural groups are overwhelmingly increasing; therefore, we must use cultural awareness to tailor our messaging to convey what we wish. Fig 2 below from the Brookings Institution indicates: the overly shifting U.S. demographics specifically in the multicultural populations.
These shifts have led to a situation in which other non-white race and ethnic groups accounted for all the 2010-to-2020 gains in the U.S. population. With the biggest contributions coming from Latino or Hispanic Americans, at 11.6 million representing roughly half of the nation’s total decade gain of 22.7 million. Asian Americans and persons identifying as two or more races also added to the shift. More than two-fifths of Americans now identify themselves as people of color. According to the Brookings Institution, one diversity milestone that was achieved with the 2020 census numbers is that a substantial plurality (more than 40%) of Americans now identify as one or more racial and ethnic groups as seen in figure 3.
What does this mean?
This means critical challenges in service delivery and client-provider communication therefore, we will be compelled to pay close attention to culturally competent standards of service delivery especially in health education, wellness initiatives and overall healthcare programming.
- In providing care for multicultural populations.
- Meeting the growing demands and needs of multicultural communities.
Some of the challenges are directly related to language barriers and different culturally related patterns of behavior and understanding the process of living a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.
At the core of every health campaign is the audience. To achieve multicultural competency in messaging, messages must appeal directly to the interests, values, and life of the audience. Determining this can be done by conducting a targeted needs assessment. If the message is relevant to the target audience, it will grasp their attention and increase the validity of the presentation. Using this information we can achieve a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand, socioeconomic levels, education, and literacy rates of the target population, subsequently allowing for the creation of an informed message.
The nature of health terminology is that it is often difficult to understand for those outside of the field, thus health literacy rates remain low (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion [ODPHP], 2020). Large disparities in the literacy levels among different population groups remain, with “only 12% of U.S. adults having proficient health literacy skills” (Center for Disease Prevention & Control [CDC], 2019). Numeracy also plays a major role. Much of the population is not familiar with statistical analysis of data; therefore, analogies and other comparisons must be implemented to show the data in a comprehensible manner.
Rapidly advancing technological environments have created a global network through which information can be communicated and retrieved at incredible speeds. Electronic health campaigns can easily be overlooked due to the sheer amount of information circulating on the web. It is important to consider the access and comfort levels with technology and adapt any messaging to fit these changes. It is also crucial to use different forms of messaging to ensure those with different learning styles understand the information. A skills-based approach to education entails teaching students good health behaviors and practices while weaving in the content of why these behaviors are significant. This generates a more engaging style of learning that allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the material.
Once a message has been relayed, a secondary assessment can help evaluate and determine if the message was implemented and received as intended. Using this information, we can modify any shortcomings to better fit the audience. If the message informs the audience in a manner that allows it to understand and digest the information while inducing appropriate decision-making to foster positive behavior change, it can be deemed as successful.
Providing culturally and linguistically inclusive or deliberative communication techniques can aid in the process of efficient health information distribution and policy implementation that work to bridge gaps. We must continue to improve the structure of messages, increase focus on the education of health professionals in the field of communication, improve the distribution of messages and create more environments in which these messages will be effectively communicated.
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