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Its All Over The News: Communicating Active Living Research Findings Barbara McCann McCann Consulting September 2004
Broadcast coverage • Ran in 121 television markets • 233 stations ran the story 447 times • Reached 21.1 million viewers
The Health Effects of Sprawl “…it was the talk of the town, the media snack of the day, an irresistibly delicious news morsel for print journalists and broadcast commentators nationwide…” Washington Post Columnist Roger Lewis September 6, 2003
How did we do it? • Established a goal • Analyzed and wrote for the general public • Turned research into local examples • Had an extensive release strategy
Know Why You Want Media Attention • To Call Attention to Your Findings • To Support Change • To Inform Officials • To Promote More Research
Our Goal: To present research in a compelling & accurate way To get the general public talking about why community design may affect physical activity and health. To explain active living.
Just Because It Is Important to You Doesn’t Mean It Is Important to the Media
Start with What the Media and the General Public Care About • New and different • Bad news • Death and taxes • Dangerous • Emphasis on Results • Rankings • News Trends • Local Relevance • Policy Implications
Start with What the Media and the General Public Care About -First national study -Sprawl makes you fat -Indirectly -Over the long term -Measured in lbs -Within metro areas -Obesity is hot -Data for 448 counties -For development • New and different • Bad news • Death and taxes • Dangerous • Emphasis on Results • Rankings • News Trends • Local Relevance • Policy Implications
A Newspaper Story Results Discussion Examples Methodology Critics
One Study: Two Products Academic paper Popular report
Relationship Between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity • Published in the American Journal of Health Promotion • Peer-Reviewed • Collaboration between planning & public health researchers
Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl • Based on peer-reviewed study • Gives findings with modeled results • Cites additional research • Makes policy Recommendations
Writing for the general public
‘Pre-Digest’ your results • Remove jargon and most numbers • Don’t be afraid to use common language • Let go of complexity • Focus on the bottom line
Academic Paper Abstract: “After controlling for demographic and behavioral covariates, the county sprawl index had small but significant associations with minutes walked (p = .004), obesity (p < .001), BMI (p = .005) and hypertension (p = .018). Residents of sprawling counties were likely to walk less during leisure time, weigh more, and have greater prevalence of hypertension than residents of compact counties.”
Popular Report Executive Summary: “The study found that people living in counties marked by sprawling development are likely to walk less and weigh more than people who live in less sprawling counties. In addition, people in more sprawling counties are more likely to suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).”
Let Go of Complexity • Avoid cluttering the story • One good finding is enough • Reporters want the bottom line • What does it mean? • How will it affect readers/viewers?
Put Results in Context “This report presents the first national study to show a clear association between the type of place people live and their activity levels, weight, and health.”
Put Results in Context Take time to explain concepts: -moderate physical activity -Body Mass Index -Walkable communities
Use photographs & diagrams Frank, LD “Health & Community Design”
Cite other studies to support findings • Neighborhood level findings (Frank) • Transportation studies (Handy) • International comparisons (Pucher)
Discuss Policy Implications • Bike-ped infrastructure • Create Safe Routes to School • Calm Traffic
Discuss Policy Implications • Build Transit-Oriented Development • Retrofit Sprawling Communities • Revitalize Walkable Neighborhoods
Turn Findings into Examples • Every 50-point increase in the degree of sprawl is linked to an increase in Body Mass Index of .17. That is a weight increase of about one pound for an average person.
Conveying key points “A 25-unit increase in the county index (one standard deviation) is associated directly with a 0.085 kg/m2 (25 x .00338) decrease in BMI. The same 25-unit increase is associated indirectly with only a 0.001 kg/m2 (25 x .275 x .000128) decrease in BMI through its effect on leisure-time walking.”
Sprawl and Walking People in sprawling areas walk less in their leisure time
Sprawl and Walking BRFSS doesn’t ask about walking for transportation. But it appears to be important.
Sprawl and Walking Additional analysis found that people in more sprawling counties had higher BMIs and higher obesity levels, whether or not they walked for exercise.
Earlier study: sprawl means fewer walk to work (excluding NYC and Jersey City)
Extensive release strategy • National telephone conference call • Pitch to national reporters • Cooperation with local partners • Television news feed • Interactive websites: • www.smartgrowthamerica.org • www.rwjf.org/news/videos.jsp
A cooperative venture • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation • Rutgers Univ./University of Maryland • Smart Growth America • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Drawbacks • Reporters will get it wrong • Discussion will be simplistic • Modeled results will show anomalies • You’ll become a lightning rod
Remember your goal • Keep your goal modest • See media as one part of a long education process
Summary • Analyze research in media terms • Pre-digest and simplify • Put research in context • Translate findings into examples – localize if possible • Allocate resources to get the word out
For more information, contact: Barbara McCannMcCann Consultingbarbara@bmccann.net202-641-1163