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The communication challenge of helping he next generation to be healthier

As the pressure on the health service increases the health of the next generation is vital for everyone. How do we show positive attitudes and change behaviour while future proofing our communications to ensure they are heard by a generation surrounded by so much technology?

In the world of healthcare, across all age groups, our communication needs to be mindful of personal health beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds and education as we try to reinforce positive messaging and drive behavioural change.

The health of the next generation is vital for everyone, from individuals and their families, to our pressurised health service and the nation as a whole. So there needs to be an increasing focus on how best to encourage healthy eating, beneficial health choices and instil positive habits.

And when it comes to communicating with the younger generation, the responses of both parents and their children need to be considered. The younger generation is often more likely to be influenced by social media posts and their friends at school, than their parents. So, parents need the right support mechanisms and information to help them navigate through the fake news, fads and scare mongering as they, in turn, try to guide their children to make the best choices.

As the child gets older, communications also need to evolve accordingly. For example, while very young children may be more heavily supervised by their parents, who are likely to play a more active role in the child’s access to healthcare and health information, as they grow up this parental influence can often decrease. Older children are becoming better versed in health information because of the internet and digitisation. As a result, parents need to keep up with technology and social media trends so they stay informed, otherwise, the digital exposure and exposure to trends can leave the younger population open to influences – both good and bad.

There are opportunities to use influence in different ways. For instance, the NHS recently partnered with Marvel Studios to coincide with the Dr Strange cinema release, with the aim of encouraging fans to become a ‘real-life’ hero and sign up to give blood. While aimed at those 17+, rather than younger children, this was an inventive awareness campaign and a great example of how branding partnerships can be used to influence and drive behaviours in an unexpected and fun way.

But while co-branding may make a message go viral, to have lasting impact it needs to be consistent and ‘owned’ by a responsible party to avoid leaving the door open for miscommunication or undue influence of commercial interests, especially when targeted to a vulnerable younger audience.

To make something long-lasting and sustainable, it needs to become ingrained in people’s consciousness and everyday lives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials in Vietnam produced a viral song and dance around hand-washing that has now become commonplace in homes and schools. While in Afghanistan, a health initiative used an immunity charm with vaccination beads to tap into the cultural norm of wearing protective bracelets and beads as a way to encourage vaccine acceptance.

There will always be complex challenges to overcome when it comes to targeting children and adolescents with health communications. However, improving communication for better health outcomes, habits and choices for this demographic is to everyone’s benefit. There is a huge space for education and information and pharma and health communicators have important roles to play together in finding ways to delight and surprise young audiences while instilling and reinforcing positive attitudes and behaviour change.

12th August 2022



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