MPH students analyze data from a Tanzanian intervention
The power of mass media can lift nations. MPH students at BYU recognized this when they assessed Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) World Health’s campaign efforts to promote early childhood development in Tanzania.
IMA’s interventions sought to decrease stunting, or impaired growth and development, among Tanzanian children, since over 2.7 million Tanzanian children under the age of five suffer from this condition. IMA implemented a multimillion-dollar program called ASTUTE (Addressing Stunting in Tanzania Early) to address this issue.
Stunting is a significant issue because, according to BYU MPH students, it can lead to “reduced height, greater susceptibility to disease, and diminished cognitive ability throughout the lifespan.”
While malnutrition and infection affect stunting, a lack of psychosocial stimulation also plays a significant role.
BYU project lead Eliza Broadbent provides insight on IMA’s intervention. “I think it's important for people to realize how multifactorial childhood health is,” she says. “That it's not simply a matter of making sure people get the right vitamins, but also having the social support and societal structure aligned with childhood health.”
Education on this issue is not prevalent among Tanzanian citizens, so IMA worked with the Tanzanian government to create radio and television commercials outlining behaviors that parents can implement with their children.
These commercials were beneficial for Tanzanian parents because, as Broadbent comments, certain child behaviors that would be seen as normal in the US may be seen as a child misbehaving in Tanzania. Additionally, parental behaviors such as singing to one’s child are less common.
The commercials produced by IMA helped combat these types of misconceptions. One commercial depicts a grandfather playing with his granddaughter. He holds up different toys, telling her which one is blue and which is green. The other family members question the grandfather, claiming that the baby is too young to understand. The grandfather responds. “I’m helping her brain grow and develop,” he says. “Talk, sing and play with her from birth and she’ll be a smart child.”
Not only are these social behaviors consistent with healthy childhood play, but they also promote cognitive functioning and provide the psychosocial stimulation necessary to prevent stunting.
With this in mind, BYU MPH students were curious to learn the effectiveness of IMA’s ASTUTE campaign. They specifically analyzed the relationship between early childhood development behaviors among parents and their exposure to media messages.
They found that IMA’s interpersonal communications were positively associated with all early childhood development behaviors measured. Additionally, some of its mass media interventions were positively associated with early childhood development behaviors.
“What we showed in our study,” Broadbent says, “is that multimedia campaigns combined with interpersonal communication can be quite effective in modifying behaviors.”
The MPH students further note that multiple modes of communication are ideal for behavioral change. When face-to-face interventions are unfeasible, mass media communications alone—such as radio and television—can still positively impact society.
After concluding their research, the MPH students hope that “governments and large international NGOs will prioritize [social and behavioral change communication] approaches in the future, especially in locations where face-to face interventions may be challenging.”
See the MPH students’ published report here.