Harvard health expert to explore connection between public health and mass communication in UGA lect

Athens, Ga. – A Harvard health expert will discuss how journalism, sitcoms and carefully orchestrated health campaigns in the United States can lessen disparities between rich and poor people during a lecture on  Monday, May 15, at the University of Georgia.

K. “Vish” Viswanath, an internationally-recognized health communication expert, will address “Beyond Access: Communication Inequality and its Implications for Health Disparities,” at 6 p.m. in the Coverdell Center Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

Originally trained as a chemist in his native India, Viswanath has since forged a sophisticated connection between public health and mass communication research. “It is no secret that racial and ethnic minorities suffer more illness, receive lower quality medical care, and die younger than the average American,” noted Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Although blue ribbon panels and expert commissions have probed these health disparities for years, ‘Vish’ Viswanath brings an unusual perspective to the task.”

Viswanath is an associate professor of society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Department of Medical Oncology at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Before arriving at Harvard he spent three years at the National Cancer Institute; during his final year at NCI he supervised 50 people working on cancer communication and control initiatives. Prior to that, Viswanath taught at the Ohio State University School of Journalism & Communication for 10 years.

In addition to excelling in the classroom, Viswanath leads three distinct research efforts. He investigates the reasons for limited access to health information and the implications of unequal access for public and individual health, studies the sociology of medical and health journalism, and examines the effects of mass media – news and entertainment – on health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.

Reducing health inequities ranks third on the National Institute of Health’s priority list. When the prestigious Institute of Medicine set out to assess NIH’s strategic plan for making equal treatment a reality, they invited Viswanath to write about how journalism, health communications, and messages embedded in entertainment might help. His analysis was featured in a major IOM report released in March.

“Dr. Viswanath is a well-known authority on health communication. His visit to UGA will provide a wonderful opportunity for UGA communication and public health scholars, as well as area health promotion professionals, to hear and share insights with Vish,” said Jeffrey Springston, associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

His visit to UGA is co-sponsored by Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Southern Center for Communication, Health and Poverty. 

Established in 1915, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication provides seven undergraduate majors including advertising, broadcast news, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and telecommunication arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards, considered the electronic broadcasting industry’s most prestigious prize. For more information, visit www.grady.uga.edu.