Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Discrepancy Between Donations and Risk Sheds Light on Challenge of Raising Awareness

Discrepancy Between Donations and Risk Sheds Light on Challenge of Raising Awareness

Managing Editor

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.

Vox Image

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.

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
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