2016 Lerner Innovation Pilot Program

The Center invites pilot projects that examine the role of health communication, health literacy, health marketing, communication inequalities, or social media in nutrition, preventing diabetes, reducing obesity, or preventing non-communicable (chronic) disease. The Lerner Innovation Pilot Program awards one-year grants at a maximum amount of $20,000 per award. Each application may be submitted by 1 or 2 faculty members from any Columbia University School. Applications that are submitted by one faculty member from the Mailman School of Public Health, and a second faculty member from another School at Columbia University (Columbia Journalism School, Columbia Business School, Teachers College, etc.) are strongly encouraged. Funds may be used for faculty time, research assistance, administrative assistance, and other supporting materials required for the completion of the proposed project. The application is now closed. Please keep posted for the announcement of awards.

In 2015, two innovation pilot projects were awarded to foster cross-disciplinary initatives to promote health and enhance the capacity to conduct such initiatives: "Community Stroke Education Pilot Study" and "Ebola in the West African Diaspora in New York City: Deriving Lessons to Inform Health Promotion in the Community." Supporting interdisciplinary collaboration across the university, the program paired faculty from the Mailman School with faculty from other schools at Columbia to conduct research that seeks to advance health promotion for important public health issues. Click here to read the press release.   


  1. Eligiblity: Are research scientists eligible to apply? Yes, research scientists are eligible to apply. Postdoctoral research scientists are not eligible.

  2. Eligibility: Must a faculty member from the Mailman School of Public Health be listed on the application? No. Each application may be submitted by 1 or 2 faculty members from any Columbia University School. Interdisciplinary, cross-school collaborations are encouraged.  

  3. How may the funds be used? Funds may be used for faculty time, research assistance, administrative assistance, and other supporting materials required for the completion of the proposed activity.

  4. Do we need to obtain IRB approval before applying? No. It will be fine to submit IRB after notification of the award, especially if you will only conduct the research if funded. Please note this on your application. 

Through domestic and global activity, the Center’s interdisciplinary faculty and research scholars conduct innovative work, publish, and actively translate their findings to enrich knowledge about effective health promotion and health communication strategies.


Puberty Book Project

Marni Sommer, DrPH, MSN, RN, is beginning a three-part, long-term project expanding upon the work in relation to her globally-published puberty books.

Building Evidence on the Impact: To develop empirical evidence for the impact that Dr. Sommer’s puberty books have in low-income countries for improving girls’ health, wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem, an evaluation of the Ethiopia Girl's Puberty Book will be conducted in collaboration with Save the Children. The findings will be disseminated to adolescent health researchers, practitioners and donors with the aim of garnering resources to develop and distribute puberty books in many more low-income countries around the world.

Expanding Puberty Books to the US: Dr. Sommer and her team are conducting a systematic review to identify pubertal knowledge being received by girls from low-income settings in the US today, and the specific challenges girls face as they transition into adulthood. The review will result in a publication that will mobilize the public heath community to action, and inform the development of a girls’ puberty book in the United States. 

Menu-Labeling Policy Content Analysis

Rachel Shelton, ScD, MPH, and James Colgrove, PhD, MPH, are examining how public health and commercial interests shape communication and public discourse around public health issues. Using content analysis methodology, they will examine legislative documents and media coverage related to menu labeling laws and policies associated with the Affordable Care Act. The article will discuss how these findings have direct implications for health message framing issues and could inform the criteria used to develop and evaluate health campaigns and message development. The article would serve as a springboard for action to help change the conversation around a select health issue, and could be used as a tool to inform how practitioners and researchers frame policies and campaigns.

Areas of Focus

Health promotion refers to educational, political, regulatory, and organizational support for behavior and environmental changes that are conducive to health (Bartholomew et al., 2011). It moves beyond a focus on individual behavior, toward a wide range of social and structural interventions. Health promotion initiatives are directed at changing social, political, environmental, and economic conditions to support individual and population health (WHO, 1986). 

Health communication provides guidance on how to inform and influence individual, community and institutional decisions that affect health (US HHS, 2014).  As a subfield of health promotion, health communication works to influence policy, regulation, practices, and programs that support desired behavior changes (Schiavo, 2013). Health communication can take the form of discrete health messages, or be incorporated into existing communication media such as news media, advertising sponsorships, and popular entertainment. As such, health communication includes the use of modern multimedia communications, or traditional forms like storytelling, puppet shows, and songs to influence behavior change (Nutbeam, 1998).


  • Bartholomew, L. K., Parcel, G. S., Kok, G., Gottlieb, N. H. & Fernandez, M. E. (2011). Planning Health Promotion Programs: An Intervention Mapping Approach. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

  • Nutbeam, D. (1998). Health Promotion Glossary. Health Promotion International. Oxford University Press, 13(4): 349-364.

  • Schiavo, R. (2013). Health Communication: From Theory to Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Health Communication.

  • World Health Organization. (1986). The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.