Updated 04:28 PM EST, Mon, Nov 23, 2020

World Cancer Day 2016: Are Awareness Campaigns Effective?

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World Cancer Day will be celebrated on February 4th, and this year's theme is "We Can. I Can."

This year, the World Cancer Day organization lists several key messages in honor of the event, including the fact that we can inspire action and take action, prevent cancer, challenge people's perceptions, create healthier environments, and improve access to cancer care.

On an individual scale, it says "I" can make healthy lifestyle choices, understand the importance of early detection, ask for support, be a support for others, and take control of the cancer journey one embarks on.

Finally, as always, cancer patients and survivors are encouraged to speak out and share their stories.

However, in the long run, is an awareness day for a certain type of illness or disease important, and could it actually make a change?

Maybe, but maybe not.

According to the American Journal of Public Health, the United States alone has almost 200 official "health awareness days" and that does not include unofficial ones sponsored by different organizations.

The paper noted that even though awareness days seem to be on the rise, people don't actually evaluate the information given to them, and nobody really knows how effective they are.

However, there are those which do have considerable impact. For instance, the president of nonprofit advocacy organization Autism Speaks said that she saw results for World Autism Awareness Day, which was set on April 2, and the entire Autism Awareness Month that runs through April. In fact, the organization raised millions, with tens and thousands of people registering on their website.

Johnathan Purtle, an assistant professor at Drexel University's School of Public Health, teamed up with public health consultant Leah Roman to see if all the fuss could be quantified.

He said, "People want to do something, which is good." However, the focus of most campaigns is generally on the individual, which could be troublesome, especially when it concerns conditions like obesity and heart disease, where the biggest risk factor is one's lifestyle.

Purtle added that these awareness days seemingly reinforce that if people become aware of the health issue, it's a good step. He also acknowledged that it might be enough to address the health issue, which really reaches out to the people, and could even influence a person's health as well as an entire population's health.

In the end though, are health awareness campaigns good or bad? Purtle posits that awareness is a step forward to changing behavior. However, it is more important to address the policies that could impact the health of the population -- and not just the individual.

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