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USF partners with World Health Organization

The USF College of Public Health was designated by the United Nations as its first Collaborating Center for Social Marketing for Social Change. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Doctors and researchers around the world are constantly developing new techniques and procedures aimed at tackling public health issues, but without the right strategy for reaching the public, these new procedures become useless.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations international public health agency, designated USF’s College of Public Health as its first Collaborating Center for Social Marketing for Social Change this week.

Co-head Linda Whiteford, a USF anthropology professor, said the center brings together public health, social marketing and anthropology to help resolve social and medical problems in cultures across the globe. 

“What we bring to the table is an understanding of culture, history and economics,” she said. “We understand how people perceive disease, and how they respond and change their behavior.”

If a government asks the United Nations for assistance with a health problem, the WHO may ask USF to mentor that country’s health experts in social marketing through online training courses.

Co-head Carol Bryant, a professor in community and family health, said social marketing uses incentives to promote “socially beneficial programs.”

“It’s a very respectful, consumer-oriented approach,” she said. “We listen to them to try and understand their constraints before we design a program, a design or a message.”

For example, Bryant said when tackling the problem of childhood obesity, they considered a child’s motivations. Instead of lecturing the children about strict diet and exercise regimes, they created a summer program for kids.

“There was nothing in the program about being fat,” she said. “It was all about what kids like or think about, which is having fun.”

WHO selected the USF College of Public Health because of its work with the Pan American Health Organization, as well as their other social marketing projects in immunization, cancer screenings and obesity.

The Center’s first project would likely be reducing obesity and high blood pressure in the Caribbean, Bryant said. Global obesity increased to 2.1 billion people in 2013, according to WHO statistics.

Whiteford said every culture has nuanced differences and anthropologists will make the center’s work more effective.

“We bring an understanding of cross cultural issues to the table,” she said. “We take what is already a powerful lens biomedicine and public health, and we broaden the scope.”