Women’s Health Communications: Decades in the Making

First Lady Michelle Obama has said that “communities, and countries, and ultimately the world, are only as strong as the health of their women.”

For so many reasons, women’s health is fundamental to a healthy society. The value of healthy mothers producing healthy babies is clear; the value of other aspects of women’s health perhaps less so. For example, ensuring strong mental health across women of all ages, making certain girls grow up free from trauma, and providing medical treatments that are appropriate for the varied body compositions of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers – have historically not been equally prioritized.

Thankfully, in 1991, the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) was established to improve the health of American women by advancing and coordinating a comprehensive women’s health agenda throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As we celebrate OWH’s 25th anniversary this year, I am grateful for all they have accomplished alongside other partners committed to the cause of strengthening the health of our nation’s women and girls. I am grateful that we now have equity in women in medical schools and more women in biomedical research. I am grateful that as a nation we have funded research on women’s health and included women in clinical trials. And I am grateful that the Affordable Care Act has been a major step forward to greater access to care for women.

OWH has also been a leader in communicating and engaging with women and girls on the health issues that matter most to them. Each year, their websites—womenshealth.gov and girlshealth.gov—reach millions of Internet users seeking accurate, accessible health information and resources, and their social media channels provide daily, actionable health tips and tools to millions more.

They have identified major health challenges, like the lack of awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women or the decrease in bone healthy behaviors in adolescence that could lead to osteoporosis later in life, and created campaigns like Make the Call. Don’t Miss a Beatand Best Bones Forever! that have moved the needle on these important issues. And throughout their efforts, OWH has applied best practices in health communications and social marketing: deep compassion for and understanding of those they serve, using data and analytics to inform strategy, engaging audiences and co-creating messages and materials, choosing message-carriers who can reach deeper into varied communities, and evaluating impact and refining approaches along the way.

On October 20, OWH hosted a 25th anniversary celebration event, featuring an award ceremony and panel discussion on the future of women’s health. Panelist Linda Goler Blount, the president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, called out the importance of smart health communications and social marketing in her remarks. “If others can sell their products, we have to be able to sell ours [health] in a way that women can embrace and act on,” said Ms. Goler Blount, who admitted to learning marketing techniques as an employee of an Atlanta-based company that sells soft drinks. “We need to de-normalize disease and normalize prevention and health!” This call-to-action rings true to social marketers who care deeply about women’s health.

Today, the HHS Office on Women’s Health continues to provide national leadership and coordination to improve the health of all women and girls through policy, education, and model programs. Hager Sharp is honored to support many of their health communications efforts now, and over the past 13 years. I am motivated every day by the deep commitment to women’s and girls’ health that I see in the OWH staff. And I believe we all share in Michelle Obama’s understanding of the centrality of women’s health to our nation’s health.

Congratulations to OWH for 25 years of service and success. As we look ahead to the next 25 years, may smart communications efforts continue to strengthen all your work, and continue to strengthen the health of women and girls in America.

– Darcy Sawatzki, MA, Senior Vice President