Top 10 public health media bites of 2013

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Public health advocates often have complex ideas that we need to communicate clearly and succinctly, especially in today's ever-shortening media context. Crafting memorable media bites is one way advocates can help shape news coverage of public health issues, demonstrate the role the environment plays in influencing health, express shared values, and offer solutions to collective challenges. Whether they appear in blogs, letters to the editor, op-eds, or news articles, strong analogies and pithy punch lines are often what make the messages stick. This year was filled media bites from advocates making the case for everything from violence prevention to healthier food environments. Here are 10 of our favorites, in chronological order. Add your own top picks to the list by joining the conversation on Facebook or Twitter, using the hashtag #bestof2013.

  1. "Public health regulations are often controversial at the time but who would want to go back to the days of sitting in smoke-filled restaurants or cars without seatbelts?"  —Sarah Wollaston, former general practitioner and conservative member of parliament. Appeared in the Guardian UK, July 15, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    The role of public health in preventing injury, disability and death too often goes unnoticed. This commentary brings that role to the forefront and reminds us that change takes time. Whether it's pushing for tobacco control, improving auto safety or implementing a soda tax, the controversies of one generation become the common sense of the next.
     
  2. "So much of what affects people's health are the environments they live in, and changing environments is really one of the things that government can do that not a lot of other entities can."  —Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for Philadelphia's Public Health Department. Appeared on Governing.com, August 2013.
    Why we like it:
    Without ever using the word (and thus risking reinforcing the opposition), this quote shows the context for individual "choice," counterbalances rugged individualism, and underscores the positive role that public systems and structures play in helping people lead healthy, happy, productive lives.
     
  3. "Violence is a contagious disease. ... Actually, it's the number one cause of death in many of our cities of young people, so it's frankly the cancer or heart disease of the young."  —Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of NGO Cure Violence. Appeared in Hospitals & Health Networks Magazine, September 16, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    The media often frame violence as strictly a criminal justice issue, with a focus on cops and courtrooms. This metaphor from Gary Slutkin reframes violence to show that, like other public health problems, it follows patterns and can be prevented. Knowing it can be prevented allows us explore its root causes, rather than merely wringing our hands after the fact.
     
  4. "The only medical voice on the Big Soda side of the debate is Dr. Pepper."  —Jeff Ritterman, cardiologist and Richmond, Calif., city councilmember. Appeared in the Telluride Daily Planet, October 6, 2013.
    Why we like it: In only 15 words, Ritterman crushes the credibility of the soda industry and uplifts the science that supports soda taxes, which would provide much-needed funds to help offset rising rates of diabetes and other health harms related to sugary drinks.
     
  5. "Anyone who smokes in multi-unit housing is not just smoking in their own home — they're smoking in mine."  —C. Denney. Appeared in The Berkeley Daily Planet, October 7, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    This pithy line, part of a commentary that makes the case for stronger protections from secondhand smoke, uses a first-person perspective to draw the reader in and shine a light on the environmental factors outside of individual control that influence our health.
     
  6. "The reality is a perverse system in which those who prepare our food are not paid enough to afford three meals a day."  —Alonzo Bell, pastor of Martin Evans Missionary Baptist Church and executive director of Redeem Detroit. Appeared in The Detroit News, October 25, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    Bell appeals to readers' sense of fairness and equity in this letter to the editor in which he exposes how the fast food industry exploits its workers — and how society as a whole suffers the consequences.
     
  7. "We can put a great deal of time, money and effort into teaching health and wellness to students but it goes to waste when the Golden Arches are a part of their school."  —Casey Hinds, blogger and public health advocate. Appeared in the report Clowning Around with Charity: How McDonald's Exploits Philanthropy and Targets Children, October 29, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    It reminds us that kids don't just learn about health from their parents and teachers; they learn about it from food companies, which, collectively, spend billions of dollars each year targeting young people with products that undermine health.
     
  8. "It is health and vitality we're after here, not skinniness or a certain BMI."  —Lexie Wolf, blogger and public health advocate. Appeared in Healthy Activist, December 2, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    Wolf challenges focusing on body weight as a proxy for overall health, which, as we've written about before, not only stigmatizes people who are overweight or obese, but also frames health in a way that highlights individuals, rather than the abundance of fast food restaurants, junk food marketing and other social and environmental factors that make it hard to be healthy.
     
  9. "[J]ournalism is predicated on the idea that the way to improve society is to show people where we're going wrong. It's like pointing out your children's mistakes every morning and then expecting that they'll become better people."  —David Bornstein, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network. Appeared in Arabella Advisors, a Greater Good blog, December 3, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    Using an unexpected and attention-getting analogy, Bornstein shows that the news is out of balance, frequently offering detailed accounts of the world's problems, while suggesting little in the way of solutions. At BMSG, we often ask ourselves, if the public's information about health came only from the media, what would they know? What wouldn't they know? If the media don't investigate and discuss solutions, it makes it that much harder to imagine — and later implement — them.
     
  10. "The reality is that undocumented Americans are not 'them,' but are 'us.' They are our colleagues, our students and our neighbors."  —Daniel Zingale, senior vice president for policy and communications at The California Endowment. Appeared in the Huffington Post, December 19, 2013.
    Why we like it:
    Language matters. How we talk about an issue affects how we think about it and act on it. This powerful statement reframes how we define who is an American and who is not. It forces us to rethink our relationships to one another and emphasizes our interconnectedness — a cornerstone of public health.

Happy New Year, advocates! As 2014 arrives, we're looking forward to another year of media bites to inspire and challenge people to think in new ways about our most pressing public health issues. If you hear or read one that resonates with you, please share it with us on Facebook, Twitter @bmsg, or by emailing info@bmsg.org. Be sure to let us know where it appeared and why you like it, and we'll consider it for our next Top 10 list. Or, better yet, create your own media bites. As radio commentator Wes "Scoop" Nisker has said, "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own."


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