Media and behaviour change

The field of behaviour change communications (BCC) has existed for decades. Behaviour change aims to encourage people to abandon 'health-compromising' behaviours and to adopt 'health-enhancing behaviours', in relation to themselves and their families (especially their children). 

The most cost-effective way of achieving large-scale, population-wide behaviour change is through the use of mass media. This generic term refers to any type of media that is 'one-to-many'. It encompasses broadcast media (primarily TV, film and radio), and print media (newspapers, magazines, books, leaflets and posters). Online media (websites, and especially social media such as Facebook and Twitter) are becoming increasingly important, as are mobile phones (which can be used in many ways beyond the simple passing on of SMS or voice messages). 
 
By contrast, interpersonal media works on a 'one-to-one' or 'one-to-few' basis. In developing countries this includes techniques such as community theatre and presentations to small groups in schools or other public buildings. These techniques have advantages, but because of their small scale they are significantly more expensive in terms of cost per person reached than mass media. 
 
When we talk about mass media at DMI we are normally referring to radio and TV, which are the most effective media in developing countries because they have by far the greatest reach. In Africa, the most popular media is radio, because of its lower cost and portability: for example, in Uganda, 74% of the population listen to the radio at least once per week (compared to 11% for TV). 
 
In the West, BCC covers topics such as road safety (from wearing seat belts to not drinking and driving) and adopting healthier lifestyles (giving up smoking, exercising more, eating less sugary or fatty foods, all of which are aimed at reducing the burden of 'non-communicable diseases'). All of the mass media mentioned above are used to spread these messages. Read more about the history of public health information campaigns in the UK.
 
In developing countries, these topics are also becoming increasingly important, but the focus remains on communicable diseases, which are still responsible for the majority of premature deaths. Our issues page discusses the topics that we focus on in more detail.