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Lecturer asks students to create social change

Vish Viswanath from the Harvard School of Public Health delivered the Emerson/Tufts Health Communication graduate program's 2010 Medical Messengers lecture April 5 at Emerson's Bill Bordy Theater.

Viswanath is an associate professor in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health and is also a faculty member in the Center for Community-Based Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and director of the Health Communication Core of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

In his lecture, titled “Health at the Margins: Poverty, Communication, and Health,” Viswanath talked about the role communication can play in social change.

Viswanath said some of his research focuses on the gap between “discovery” and “the delivery of” information on health issues.

“The Health Communication program was thrilled to have Dr. Viswanath here to talk about a very serious issue,” said Health Communication program Director Timothy Edgar. “He is known internationally for his work on health disparities and poverty, and we were honored to hear firsthand about the ways in which he is trying to change the world bit by bit. The students were truly inspired.”

“The connection between social determinants and health outcomes is health communication,” said Viswanath. “Inequalities in the distribution of communication resources and channels relate to health disparities.”

Viswanath told the student-filled room that the problem is not only how information on health-related issues is delivered, but also the information itself. “[The information] can be confusing and contradictory,” he said. “There are significant gaps in the relationship between lifestyle and disease prevention.”

Before his appointment at Harvard, Viswanath was the acting associate director of the Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). He was also a senior scientist in NCI's Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch.

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