Navigating consumer health trends: Insights from leading health journalists

Posted on: February 22nd, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

The healthcare landscape is continually changing, driven by the unprecedented access to information at our fingertips. The increase in public health knowledge has sparked heightened interest in public health interventions, evident in the widespread support for recent initiatives such as smoking and vaping bans and action on obesity. This momentum may further drive discussions on issues such as the need for guidance on ultra-processed foods. 

The expansion of digital health tools, including wearable devices, coupled with the abundance of information on platforms like social media, has empowered individuals to take a more proactive role in managing their wellbeing. However, as information consumption continues to shift, with platforms like TikTok becoming increasingly influential, journalists face the challenge of navigating rapidly evolving trends and fads, such as vitamin-based hangover cures, to maintain readership. 

Amidst this saturation of information, it’s important to examine the benefits and drawbacks it brings. How can communicators, both in the media and within brands, adapt to the self-care revolution, where the public has unlimited access to enhanced health information? 

To explore these questions, we were joined by experts including Eleanor Hayward, Health Editor at The Times; Jennifer Savin, Features Editor at Cosmopolitan; and Shaun Lintern, Health Editor at The Sunday Times. Their insights offer valuable guidance for brands seeking to navigate and capitalise on the opportunities presented by this evolving landscape. 

Benefits to enhanced health information:

1. Increased health awareness and literacy amongst the public 

The public is becoming increasingly informed, proactive, and scientifically literate. This shift, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant flow of information across various media channels, presents a valuable opportunity for brands to tailor their services to meet the needs of the increasingly health-conscious consumer.  

2. People are taking ownership and responsibility for their health and flagging symptoms early  

With NHS wait times at record highs, many are turning to private healthcare and self-testing from pharmacies, particularly for illnesses such as tonsilitis, UTIs, and COVID-19. Brands can play a crucial role in providing accessible information resources to meet the growing demand. 

 Drawbacks to enhanced health information

1. Health anxiety is on the rise  

As awareness continues to grow, so does the prevalence of health-related anxiety amongst the public. This stems from the wealth of information accessible to us, often through apps and self-tests. 

2. Growing system pressures and information gap due to private testing  

The rise of self-testing creates a potential gap in professional follow-up, adding to the strain on already burdened healthcare systems. Can brands support this emerging issue by responsibly filling the information gap and fostering trust? 

So, what is the role of communicators in navigating these effects and how do they adapt their storytelling? 

Personal and audience-centric messaging is essential to drive engagement 

  • First-hand patient-led stories resonate the most with consumer audiences, as people seek personal connections and real-world impacts of health interventions – our panel mentioned that these are essential for any story to be covered. 
  • Complex scientific details should be presented in a clear, concise, and easily digestible manner, with supplementary information available for those who delve deeper. This ensures accessibility and understanding for a wider audience. 

Balanced and nuanced storytelling is key to build trust 

  • The panel emphasised the necessity to conduct thorough due diligence, share peer-reviewed studies, and offer independent expert opinions, to ensure credible and transparent reporting.  
  • Brands can support journalists with this by providing accurate and robust data, and readily addressing any product concerns to build trust with both media and consumers. 

The need to address inequalities in studies and messaging 

  • Journalists aim to ensure that their reporting considers disparities across age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity to provide a comprehensive understanding of health issues. Where possible, brands should also offer this breakdown of information to ensure their storytelling is balanced and inclusive.  

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