GW Researchers Find Healthy Behaviors Can Be Marketed

In developing countries, public health officials often turn to social marketing strategies in order to educate the public about the importance of behaviors related to water and sanitation, such as regular hand washing and water purification. Social marketers use the same powerful tactics but in a different way: They are promoting behavior change in order to keep people healthy. Despite the growing popularity of social marketing there has been no systematic review of the research in the public health arena.

W. Douglas Evans, PhD, a professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, and his colleagues set out to change that by systematically reviewing the peer-reviewed literature on programs to improve water and sanitation in developing countries. All of 32 studies included in the review looked at the impact of social marketing on behaviors related to water safety or sanitation, such as treating water to make it safe to drink or the safe disposal of the contents of a household latrine.

Social marketers in these studies used a variety of methods to sell residents on the benefits of healthy behaviors. In some cases, they went door to door or they mounted public education campaigns to educate schoolchildren or the general public. This review found that social marketing is a promising way to improve the safety of water and sanitation worldwide.

The study, “Social Marketing of Water and Sanitation Products: A Systematic Review of Peer-Reviewed Literature,” appeared online March 21 in the journal Social Science & Medicine.