Thursday 22 February 2018

Driving Healthy Behavior Through Storytelling

This post was originally published on

Living in today’s health care environment is fraught with contradictions.

On the one hand, we are an empowered culture creating better and more universal access to health through programs like the Affordable Care Act. People of all ages and ethnicity are making proactive steps to prevent illness and to incorporate wellness into their everyday lives.

Conversely, the dangers associated with non-communicable diseases are threatening our future. Research tells us that if we don’t change our eating behaviors, then 86 percent of the American population will be obese by 2030. A number of consumer awareness campaigns and programs have been launched but, as much as we educate people on the dangers of obesity, tobacco and sedentary lifestyles, changing these deeply ingrained personal health behaviors is difficult.

While opinion leaders and academics hotly debate health behavior change and what it will take to reverse these dangerous trends, people are taking the conversation into their own hands and participating in the debate in a much different way: through storytelling.

Stories of personal health transformation are permeating our social existence – these stories live on YouTube, on Facebook newsfeeds and are traded during cocktail parties. We’ve become a society that’s keen to document and share our personal stories of health. Whether it’s through words, film or imagery, we are telling what’s working, what’s not and why we’re committed to improve ourselves. And we’re not afraid to get personal.

Take Arthur’s Inspirational Transformation, a video with over 9 million views on YouTube. From the get-go, we’re drawn in by Arthur’s story. He invites us to join the ups and downs of his very personal health journey. We don’t know Arthur, but we’re rooting for him as if he’s our brother or friend. By the end, we’re moved. For many, the realization might be, “If he can do it, so can I.” For others, it might be as simple as getting to gym for an unplanned workout. Regardless, the story moves our minds, our hearts and, in turn, our actions. The story inspires some kind of change.

At Edelman, we’re consistently seeing all forms of storytelling content move people to action. To dive deeper into this trend, we convened a panel in March at SXSW, “Contagious Content: Making Healthy Behavior Stick,” with companies that are rethinking wellness and creating contagious content that can inspire, engage and raise awareness.

The panel explored three attributes that we as health communicators should keep in mind when creating content that people can consume and act on:

  1. The content must be created for the person. Health and well-being are personal, so content must be equally personal and customized for the individual to maximize impact.
  2. Compelling content should rally the community. The act of making health a group and socially-connected endeavor is a top motivator in health behavior change.
  3. Emotion — whether it’s humor, inspiration, sadness or joy — is a key driver in behavior. When you have an emotional tie to an idea or behavior, you think, learn, feel and act.

Image credit: tableatny

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