Does Health Have a Branding Problem?

Surgeon General claims prevention, trained communicators vital to health of nation

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In a visit hosted by the Center for Health Communication in the Moody College of Communication, Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th surgeon general of the United States, spoke to an audience of students in the Texas Union theater on March 3. In a discussion with Moody College Dean Jay Bernhardt, Murthy addressed mental illness, obesity, diet, stress and other health-related issues with a focus on shifting American society from an emphasis on treatment to one more mindful of prevention. In his speech, “The Path to Prevention: A Dialogue with the Surgeon General of the U.S.,” Murthy said it’s vital to have pitchmen, marketing and media practitioners package ideas of prevention to ensure the success of campaigns and make an impact.

“Health has a branding problem,” said Murthy. “The pursuit of health for many people is not seen as exciting—as a source of pleasure or power—it’s seen as a route of pain.”


Murthy also addressed the obesity epidemic among adults and children in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.9 percent or 78.6 million American adults are obese and are more prone to heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes and some types of cancer. Murthy said urban planning for sidewalks and going on brisk walks daily are simple solutions that decrease the health risks of obesity and can make a big difference in public health but is in contrast to the excitement often surrounding the newest gadget, innovation or technology.

“Not too many people get excited about a new sidewalk being built,” said Murthy. “Even though a sidewalk can be a powerful public health tool that promotes walking and physical activity.”

Murthy emphasized the incorporation of health concerns in relation to every segment of society and encouraged the audience to take an active role in promoting prevention through strategic communication in order to help individuals make changes in their lives to improve their own health.

“An ability to connect with people deeply and understand what they care about,” said Murthy. “It’s that same skill we need as clinicians that would help us do our job more efficiently and effectively in the long run.” 

The event was co-sponsored by Dell Medical School, College of Pharmacy, School of Nursing, School of Social Work, College of Education-Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the UT School of Public Health, and Healthcare@McCombs.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer