Health communication: A discussion of north american and european views on sustainable health in the digital age

Isabell Koinig*, Sandra Diehl, Franzisca Weder

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Chapter in book/Conference proceedingChapter in edited volume


Following the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN’s third goal is meant to “ensure health lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” (UN 2017). Thus health is closely linked to sustainability. While progress has been made over the past decades, which have seen an increase in life expectancy and a success in combatting several diseases (e.g., children’s diseases such as measles or adult diseases such as HIVand malaria), new health issues have emerged and need to be addressed. In this context, communication is of uttermost relevance. Broadly speaking, health communication refers to “any type of human communication whose content is concerned with health” (Rogers, J Health Commun 1:15-23, 1996) and can be directed at both individuals and organizations with the goal of preventing illness and fostering health (Thompson et al., The Routledge handbook of health communication, 2nd edn. Routledge, New York, 2011). As a multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach, health communication draws from and combines influences from different theoretical backgrounds and disciplines, such as education, sociology, (mass) communication, anthropology, psychology, and social sciences (WHO, Health and sustainable development. Key health trends. Available via WHO. def1.pdf. Accessed 20 Dec 2017, 2003; Institute of Medicine, Health literacy: a prescription to end confusion. Available via The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine. Accessed 11 Apr 2016, 2003; Bernhardt, Am J Public Health 94:2051-2053, 2004). Health communication - regardless of the form it takes (e.g., policies, patient-provider interactions, community projects, public service announcements, or advertising) - is concerned with “influencing, engaging and supporting individuals, communities, health professionals, special groups, policy makers and the public to champion, introduce, adopt, or sustain a behavior, practice or policy that will ultimately improve health outcomes” (Schiavo, Health communication: from theory to practice.Wiley, San Francisco, 2007). As such, it needs to be perceived as “a part of everyday life” (du Pré, Communicating about health: current issues and perspectives. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, 2000). Since health communication occurs in the health communication environment (Schiavo, Health communication: from theory to practice, 2nd edn. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2014), which is composed of four main domains, namely: (1) health audience; (2) recommended health behavior, service, or product; (3) social environment; and (4) political environment, it takes place on various levels (societal, institutional, and individual) which need to be studied in order to provide a comprehensible and complete picture of the subject area. The present contribution seeks to highlight the contribution of the different disciplines to effective health communication, outline changes in the health communication environment, as well as carve out future challenges that are brought about by changes in demographics, disease treatment, and communication patterns. A special focus will be put on gender-specific and digital health communication. In conclusion, limitations and directions for future research are addressed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Communication for Development and Social Change
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789811520143
ISBN (Print)9789811520136
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020.

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 508007 Communication science
  • 508013 Public relations


  • Digital health technologies
  • eHealth
  • Every Woman Every Child project
  • Health communication
  • Health information technology
  • Men’s health
  • mHealth
  • Pharmaceutical advertising
  • Pragmatism
  • Universal Health Coverage (UHC)
  • Women’s health

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