182204 CDC's “Learn the Signs. Act Early” campaign: Applying health communication theory to move parents from fear to action

Monday, October 27, 2008: 5:00 PM

Christine Prue, PhD , National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
Katherine Lyon Daniel, PhD , National Center for Health Marketing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
Jana Thomas, MPA , Health and Social Marketing, Porter Novelli, Atlanta, GA
Melissa Kraus Taylor, MA , Strategic Planning & Research, Porter Novelli, Atlanta, GA
Monica B. Scales, PhD , Porter Novelli, Atlanta, GA
Autism has increasingly become a focus of public attention, and yet, while more people are talking about autism, too few know the early warning signs of developmental disabilities associated with this condition. Data from the 2004/2005 HealthStyles surveys indicated that while parents were aware of their children's physical growth and development, they had low awareness of the age-appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive milestones their children should be reaching. Based on health communication theory, CDC developed a research-based campaign encouraging parents' to look for the developmental milestones their child should be reaching at different ages, to talk with their child's health care professional about their child's development, and to take action if a developmental delay is suspected. Qualitative message testing indicated that parents were more likely to dismiss messages based on fear appeals, believing they were not relevant to their child or situation. CDC developed a campaign targeting pre-contemplators (from Stages of Change) that framed messages more positively (gain frame messages), and related the desired behavior (to monitor key developmental milestones) to parents' natural tendency to track their children's physical growth. CDC launched the “Learn the Signs. Act Early” campaign first to health care professionals in October 2004 and then to parents in April 2005. Data from the 2007 HealthStyles survey indicate that significantly more parents are monitoring their children's development (58% in 2005 vs. 66% in 2007; P <.02) and asking their child's health care professional for information about developmental milestones (18% in 2005 vs. 28% in 2007; P<.01).

Learning Objectives:
1) Describe the process of applying health communication theory to campaign and message development 2) Assess when use of messages that instill fear are not appropriate for prompting behavior change

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the CDC lead on the "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.