Following Your Research Interests: The Road to Engaging Men in Prenatal Health

By Mike Mackert

There are many things that make me appreciate working in health communication as a field, but near the top of my list is the fact that my own personal interests – related to health literacy and message design – make it possible to explore different health issues, populations, and generally just always be on the hunt for interesting communication problems to try and solve. This can lead in unexpected and exciting directions.

A perfect example of this relates to prenatal health promotion, specifically how to promote folic acid to Hispanic women. There are a variety of reasons this is an important issue, but basically it comes down to a few things…

  • Folic acid is important for brain and spinal cord development, which is why prenatal vitamins include folic acid.

  • Hispanic women are less likely to know about the benefits of folic acid.

  • Hispanic women are more likely to have a baby with neural tube defects.

  • Half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, which means that promoting folic acid isn’t as simple as saying that anyone who plans on getting pregnant should take prenatal vitamins.

From a communication point of view, this is an interesting challenge for a variety of reasons. So we pursued a line of work to understand what Hispanic women thought of existing folic acid promotion campaigns, developed a new campaign, and then piloted that campaign. I didn’t have an existing interest in maternal and child health before this work, but through the course of that series of projects I found this was a topic I really enjoyed working on.

The whole time we were working on those projects, there was a parallel idea in my head about how to engage men in prenatal health. I believe it is a tremendous missed opportunity to not engage men in prenatal health, particularly given the evidence in developing countries is that it leads to better outcomes for both mothers and babies.

So we started to pursue this idea, first by thinking about what research in this area should accomplish, then by seeing what men thought of a popular prenatal health support app, and finally by piloting a new e-health intervention designed specifically for men.

That line of work was successful enough that we’re now working as part of a team, supported by state funding, to build a mobile app that could become a platform for engaging men across Texas on issues related to prenatal health and fatherhood more broadly. We’re still in development – the screenshot at right is part of a wireframe we’re using for testing – but hoping to launch later this year. This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on, and it couldn’t have come about if working in this field didn’t allow me the flexibility to explore my research interests in this way.