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Translation: or how we bump into health messages

By Eliza Metcalfe, Senior Project Officer, Policy, Equity & Translation Group

Working in a research institute on the same campus as a hospital, you get pretty immersed in health information. There are things that seem obvious to everyone here – put baby to sleep on their back for example – because we’re exposed to the evidence for these things every day and that instruction has become general knowledge.

But what is it that makes a health message cross over from research into general knowledge? How did parents learn to change how they put their babies to sleep when the research came out that showed that babies who sleep on their tummies are more likely to die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)? Great research does not automatically translate into general knowledge and the ways to make that translation happen are what we at Murdoch Children's Research Institute are particularly interested in.

My colleague and I have a habit of recording the places that we ‘bump’ into health information and then thinking about whether that works well to get the message across to an audience. A simple one is this:

But that one’s not especially exciting. Would you climb the stairs, or just take the lift instead?

A cooler – and more effective - way to communicate the “climb the stairs for your health” message was demonstrated at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne last year for the Heart Foundation’s “Put a Spring in your Step” campaign.

Here’s the Bourke St stairs at the station before and after:

Initiated by the Heart Foundation, Put a Spring in your Step was part of the 100 Ways to Move it Melbourne campaign

By making the stairs more enticing and exciting, the Heart Foundation got more people climbing while the campaign was on. A great example of health message translation from research to practice – and without having to say ‘climb the stairs for your health’.

Another example of doing things a bit differently to get the health message across is this one from the Queensland Government: “Give Drug and Alcohol-Fuelled Violence the Red Card”.

Where this one acts as a great example of doing things differently to translate a health message, is its location. Men are the majority of perpetrators of drug- and alcohol-fuelled violence in this country. Young men in particular. Everyone needs to visit the bathroom, so the placement of the ad in the bathroom, where the target audience can’t help but ‘bump’ into it, is perfect.

We live in a world where we’re bombarded with “messages” every day – and increasingly we tune out. If you’re under 30 you probably almost never watch television, the traditional medium for important messages. You consume media all sorts of ways, but not via the classic channels. Getting the message across to younger people in attention-grabbing ways, via channels where they’re likely to just “bump” into the message is critical. And these days, there’s a whole lot more creative thinking about that going on – keep your eyes peeled!

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