Former New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, who now leads The Public Good Projects, has authored a viewpoint in JAMA Internal Medicine that encourages the use of mass media advertising to promote healthy behaviors. Titled “Mass Diseases, Mass Exposures, and Mass Media,” the article highlights the success of mass media campaigns aimed at smoking cessation, noting that some of these advertisements were more valuable and cost-effective than routine one-on-one counseling, and calls for further research into the dose-response curve for advertising. As Farley explains, “[S]tudies suggest that smoking cessation or smoking prevalence rates can be changed populationwide by television ads shown at a dose of approximately 10,000 Gross Ratings Points (GRPs) per year,” meaning that “the average person is exposed to 100 ads.”

The editorial also suggests that similar large-scale campaigns can be used to effectively counter sugar-sweetened beverage marketing. “Mass media messages, seen repeatedly by high percentages of entire populations, have a potentially greater benefit over the long term by shifting general attitudes,” concludes Farley, who argues that hospital systems, health insurers and government agencies have the budget to wage mass media campaigns. “When everyone in a population sees persuasive messages about the risks of smoking, they are more likely to support organizational and government policy changes such as smoke-free air rules or cigarette taxes. Such policy changes can alter the social norms of behavior, helping even those people not directly touched by media messages.”