Mar. 08 2016

Scientists Look to Social Media and Texts for Answers on Guns, Exercise

Lerner Center Pilot Grants Support Research Collaborations Across the University

The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion has awarded its 2016 Lerner Innovation pilot grants to two cross-disciplinary teams from Columbia University. Both projects join Mailman faculty with partners from other parts of the University and use contemporary communications tools, incorporating social media and texting, to examine the debate around gun control and to promote physical activity at home.

Asking the question of whether the debate over gun control is really as intractable as it seems, Amy Fairchild, professor of Sociomedical Sciences, Merlin Chowkwanyun, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences, and Courtney Cogburn, assistant professor of Social Work, plan to map the political discourse by pulling from an enormous variety of sources, including Congressional proceedings, laws, websites, newspapers, magazines, ethnic media, and social media authored by elected officials, advocacy organizations, health agencies, the gun industry, and others. Their findings will reveal the relationship between message framing and policy development, illuminating the potential to bridge political divides by situating the issue in terms of harm reduction.

When children come home from school, TV is often their first priority. Considering the country’s epidemic of childhood obesity and related diseases, Helena Duch, assistant professor of Population and Family Health, and Carol Ewing Garber, professor and chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences at Teachers College, intend to make family time more physically active. Duch and Garber are pilot-testing a “SKIP! at Home” kit, along with a texting and social media strategy, to support physical activities for disadvantaged families living in homes with limited space. Through “SKIP!,” Duch and Garber interface with parents and children to support healthy child development and prevention of cardiovascular disease across the lifespan for families most at-risk.

“Young children these days are surprisingly sedentary, spending too much time engaged in screen media,” said Garber. “We are excited to take this opportunity to build upon our work and pilot an at-home program component that addresses the significant challenges faced by families to stay active while living in very small spaces. Combining my expertise in movement sciences with Duch’s in early childhood determinants of health allows us to develop effective health promotion programs for families in fun, culturally-, and developmentally-appropriate ways.”

Through these one-year grants, the Lerner Center will foster cross-disciplinary initiatives that contribute to the growing body of evidence-based practices in the field of health promotion and health communication.

“Our Innovation pilot projects give faculty members a chance to put good ideas to work across disciplines, aligning different academic methods against a shared goal,” said Gina Wingood, the Sidney and Helaine Lerner Professor of Public Health Promotion at the Mailman School and the Center’s inaugural Director. “The funded projects explore how messages are framed—nationally and in the household—around important health objectives. Everyone at the Lerner Center is excited to see where these unusual ideas lead.”