Raising awareness of health issues is a tricky business in the
field of health communications. It's hard to execute and even
harder to measure. Some organizations are better at it than others.
Take, for example, the Susan G.
Komen® organization and the Komen Race for the Cure.
Its efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer have been so
successful that it has given rise to a new term, "pink washing," which
describes an organization that promotes a pink ribbon product that
they just happen to make a profit. Meanwhile, some organizations
catch a break with something like the
Ice Bucket Challenge, which is still going strong in raising
money for the ALS Association in
support of research and advocacy for Lou Gehrig's disease. Since
the Ice Bucket Challenge began earlier this summer, the association
has seen donations of more than $109.4 million (as of September 3,
2014), far surpassing typical donations to the association during
this same time period last year.
When an awareness campaign catches fire, really great things can
happen. In terms of raising funds for research or simply raising
awareness, successful campaigns like the Komen Race for the Cure or
the Ice Bucket Challenge are what we all aim for when it comes to
communications campaigns. But what about those diseases or
conditions that are less "glamorous" or perhaps less sympathetic?
Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer, but it's
not as widely broadcasted. It's also not widely conveyed that
Lung Cancer Awareness Month takes place each November. Coming
on the heels of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in the midst of
the popular "Movember" (in
support of men's health issues) Lung Cancer Awareness just doesn't
rise to the top.
That poses a problem when it comes to actual donations given to
fight various diseases and conditions. There is a discrepancy
between causes to which people are more likely to donate and the
diseases that actually claim the most lives.
To demonstrate this point, Vox
created this infographic to compare where money is donated versus
diseases that kill us.
As you can see (and hopefully, as you also know), more people in
the United States die from heart disease each year than any other
disease. Breast cancer, which tops the list in terms of money
donated, is the 4th most common cause of death on this list.
Meanwhile, lung cancer is the
leading cause of cancer death in every ethnic group. Why such a
difference? Part of the reason is because, as mentioned earlier,
some awareness campaigns have been extraordinarily successful, not
just once, but over and over again. But there's also something else
at play here. Often (and unfairly) people consider diseases like
heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and
lung cancer to be "less worthy" causes because in many cases, they
are preventable. Regardless of how true that point is for an
individual person, the vast majority of such cases stem from
reasons beyond anyone's control.
So, when it comes to donating your time or money to a "good"
cause, remember that the list of organizations that truly need your
help is a long one, and many health conditions fall under the
radar. And regardless of how you choose to donate your money,
make sure the organization is reputable and that your money is
actually being used toward the cause.