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Narratives and Images Used by Public Communication Campaigns Addressing Social Determinants of Health and Health Disparities

Publication Date
DOI: 10.3390/ijerph9124254
  • Article
  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


Researchers have increasingly focused on how social determinants of health (SDH) influence health outcomes and disparities. They have also explored strategies for raising public awareness and mobilizing support for policies to address SDH, with particular attention to narrative and image-based information. These efforts will need to overcome low public awareness and concern about SDH; few organized campaigns; and limited descriptions of existing message content. To begin addressing these challenges, we analyzed characteristics of 58 narratives and 135 visual images disseminated by two national SDH awareness initiatives: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America and the PBS-produced documentary film Unnatural Causes. Certain types of SDH, including income/wealth and one’s home and workplace environment, were emphasized more heavily than others. Solutions for addressing SDH often involved combinations of self-driven motivation (such as changes in personal health behaviors) along with externally-driven factors such as government policy related to urban revitilization. Images, especially graphs and charts, drew connections among SDH, health outcomes, and other variables, such as the relationship between mother’s education and infant mortality as well as the link between heart disease and education levels within communities. We discuss implications of these findings for raising awareness of SDH and health disparities in the US through narrative and visual means.

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