Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where the Rubber Hits the Road: Translating Research into Practice at the Student Assembly Meeting

Attendees at today’s all-day Student Assembly meeting were treated with real-life case studies from three California practitioners, and even a plug for jobs with the state! (See the California Department of Public Health’s booth at the Public Health Expo for more information.)

Andrew McGuire, executive director of Health Care for All- California, described his group’s novel effort to gain the attention of the media and the public by staging 365 events in 365 days in 365 California cities — starting with the 365th smallest city and working their way up to a finale event that drew 4,000 people to Los Angeles’ City Hall in August 2007. Despite the governor’s two vetoes of a single-payer health plan in California, McGuire’s group raised awareness and established a network of 50,000 supporters.

“It was an audacious idea, but in the end it turned into a coalition of organizations,” he said.

In addition to expanding access to care, California’s Department of Public Health is hitting the streets to empower its citizens to be “Champions for Change” by eating healthy and exercising. Alyssa Ghirardelli, of the Network for a Healthy California program, described her efforts to motivate people to make healthy choices via media campaigns aimed at low-income mothers that stress self-efficacy, “you can do it!” techniques (Sample Slogan: My kitchen. My rules.).

California has also been ahead of the curve with other public health efforts, including smoking cessation and prevention. Colleen Stevens, with the state public health department’s Tobacco Control Media Campaign, told students that her office has been focused on changing social norms. In the past 20 years (ever since a 5 cent tax per cigarette pack was earmarked for tobacco control programs), hundreds of California cities have enacted smoking prohibitions and multiple state-wide regulations have gone into effect, including this year’s ban on smoking in a car with a child younger than 18. But it all began with educational campaigns to make people aware of the hazards of secondhand smoke.

“Everyone wants to start with the kids…but we started with adults because the only way to make lasting change with kids is to build a world where smoking is not tolerated,” Stevens said.

And California’s program is showing real results: The state has the 2nd lowest prevalence of smoking, and rates of lung cancer are declining four times as fast as the rest of the country.

– P.T.

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