Health Communications: Key Takeaways from Diabetes Prevention Initiatives

November is National Diabetes Month, a time when communities across the country take action to prevent health issues related to diabetes. It’s something Vanguard Communications has been doing for the past five years through our work with the American Diabetes Association.

We’ve raised awareness of prediabetes and how to prevent type 2 diabetes through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) and its year-long lifestyle change program. Our work has reached millions of people in predominantly Mexican American communities along the U.S. border, leading to weight loss, increased physical activity and a positive impact on the health of these individuals.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way:

  • Audience segmentation matters. Older populations have different barriers and motivations for prevention. They may be concerned that they are too old to make changes, and they may be more motivated by having more energy rather than weight loss, which is more appealing to younger populations.
  • Messages need to be tailored and tested. We used audience research to create our messages and tested them with people in the community to ensure comprehension and appeal. One missing piece that we identified through our research was the need to address fatalism and the sense that diabetes is your destiny.
  • Language should be simple. Diabetes is complicated. Not everybody understands terms like glucose and A1c, especially in communities with low literacy. We made sure to avoid confusing terms or explain them in plain language.
  • Visuals can help where language is a struggle. One of the populations we worked with was migrant workers. We created highly visual content to explain diabetes and describe the small lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent it.
  • Imagery needs to be genuine and relatable. Just like language, imagery needs to reflect the population you are trying to reach. Whenever possible, we used photographs of people in the community. When those weren’t available, we were very careful in selecting stock photography.
  • Self-efficacy rules. We used stories of real people that others could relate to and see themselves in to promote the program. Examples of people who had been through the program who looked like and had similar lifestyles to our target audience were a key component in convincing people that the program would work for them.
  • Primary care providers are key conduits. Health professionals are trusted sources of information. National DPP participants enrolled in the lifestyle change program who are referred by a primary care provider are more likely to stay and succeed in the program. We worked with this audience to reinforce the evidence base for the National DPP as well as stress that providers who refer patients will receive updates and feedback on their patients’ progress.
  • Partners have a positive impact. Partners enabled us to reach more potential participants through their channels such as meetings, newsletters and social media. More importantly, partners garner trust that leads to more recruitment.

Type 2 diabetes prevention is about more than raising awareness. To be effective, it’s important to understand the interplay of social determinants of health that make someone more or less susceptible to developing the disease. Understanding this complexity and our audience make us better communicators.