Bringing Everyone to the Table: Using Inclusive Communication Principles to Address Diet-Related Disease

Lower diet quality is associated with higher rates of chronic disease in the United States, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. For many Americans, accessing healthy, safe, and affordable foods consistently is a challenge due to structural and health inequities that make accessing healthier foods and beverages difficult.

This past fall, the Biden-Harris Administration reconvened the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and released a national strategy for ending hunger and reducing diet-related diseases. Embedded in this work is a call to address disparities preventing equitable access to healthy and affordable foods using a “Whole-of-Society Response” that urges involvement from various sectors, including state and local government, healthcare, and community-based organizations.

There is a clear role for health communication professionals in this response as the strategy’s third pillar, “Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices,” calls for building and promoting environments that enable all Americans to make healthy food choices. This pillar calls for investment in culturally appropriate public education campaigns and support for tailored nutrition education programs grounded in cultural understanding.

Inclusive communication is the practice of creating information products that address all people–across the full spectrum of diversity, including age, gender, gender identity, ability, race and ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status–in a manner that makes them feel included, represented, and respected. Creating inclusive content extends beyond language translation and showing images of diverse groups of people and often involves adapting content to meet the unique information needs and values of a population or community. The select principles offered below are some of the many we can use in our work.

Adapt interventions, materials, and messages for different cultures and communities.
In the context of communications, cultural adaptation is the tailoring of messages and interventions to reflect an audience’s culture, language, and values. Adaptations are largely done to ensure success among a particular culture or group and often involves designing core strategies and messages with input from the affected community to create an initiative that builds from and addresses their beliefs, cultural norms, and barriers to acceptance.

Many of the nation’s leading health initiatives for reducing diet-related diseases over the past 25 years–such as the National Diabetes Prevention Program, Million Hearts®, National Diabetes Education Program, and National Kidney Disease Education Program–have followed cultural adaptation principles. Program planners recognized that “one-size-fits-all” approaches that do not account for differences between audiences would not drive message acceptance or behavior change. Instead, they relied on gathering and applying input from people with lived experiences, addressed social determinants impacting the groups at greatest risk, and introduced educational resources that incorporated culturally appropriate elements, such as language, faith, and storytelling to create impactful messages.  

Candice Watkins Robinson, MA
Vice President, Health

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