Monday, February 12, 2007
Health awareness days: Mark your calendars again and again
It's February. There are hearts everywhere. Most of them are for Valentine's Day, but some are commemorating American Heart Month. After all, it was just a couple of Fridays ago, February 2, when celebrities around the country, including CNN's own Larry King, Paula Zahn and Soledad O'Brien, helped observe National Wear Red Day. Public service announcements on heart health abound.
American Heart Month is just one of more than 200 official National Health Observances in 2007. Every year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services develops a calendar of these awareness days, weeks and months to highlight a particular disease or health issue. Each year, HHS gets dozens of requests to get more issues on an already crowded calendar. In addition to hearts, this month has lesser-known awareness days for low vision, prenatal infection, children's dental health, burns, children of alcoholics, organ donation and eating disorders. Sometimes it seems that the dates assigned to a particular issue are chosen at random. All of them are serious health issues needing attention, but what is my personal February favorite? Today is the first day of National Condom Week and Valentine's Day is National Condom Day. Apparently, February is a good time to talk about hearts and condoms.
A National Health Observance Day can bring much-needed attention and donations to an important health issue. Last year's "Go Red for Women" raised $2.1 million for National Wear Red Day out of a total of $23 million for the year. There is no real way to quantify the effects of these events, but Dr. Elizabeth Nabel of the American Heart Association points out that before National Wear Red Day started in 2004, 1 in 3 women died of heart disease. Now, those numbers have improved to 1 in 4 women.
Breast Cancer Awareness in October and Lung Cancer Awareness in November are other examples of successful health awareness events. The pink-ribbon campaign dates back to 1992, when 1.5 million ribbons were handed out along with self-breast exam instructions at Estee Lauder cosmetic counters around the country. Now, pink is an unmistakable icon for breast cancer. Every November, the American Cancer Society launches the Great American Smokeout. The Quitline and the ACS Web site get the highest traffic of the year around that day.
I think awareness days can be incredibly successful. As a health journalist, I get a deluge of story pitches from publicity campaigns ranging from Colorectal Cancer Month to Jaw Joints/TMJ Day to National Fruit and Vegetable Day. The most successful campaigns usually are marked by a healthy budget and passionate advocates.
Do you think February as Heart Month and October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month make a difference? Do you pay more attention when you find out that today is a day highlighting a particular issue? Which health issues deserve their own days?
Editor's note: CNN Medical Intern Caroline Bray contributed to this blog
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