Candice Watkins RobinsonCandice Watkins Robinson

Lower diet quality is associated with higher rates of chronic disease in the United States, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. For many Americans, accessing healthy, safe and affordable foods consistently is a challenge due to structural and health inequities that make accessing healthier foods and beverages difficult.

This past fall, the Biden-Harris Administration reconvened the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health and released a national strategy for ending hunger and reducing diet-related diseases. Embedded in this work is a call to address disparities preventing equitable access to healthy and affordable foods using a “Whole-of-Society Response” that urges involvement from various sectors, including state and local government, healthcare and community-based organizations.

There is a clear role for health communication professionals in this response as the strategy’s third pillar, “Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices,” calls for building and promoting environments that enable all Americans to make healthy food choices.

This pillar calls for investment in culturally appropriate public education campaigns and support for tailored nutrition education programs grounded in cultural understanding.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '23 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

Inclusive communication is the practice of creating information products that address all people–across the full spectrum of diversity, including age, gender, gender identity, ability, race and ethnicity, language and socioeconomic status—in a manner that makes them feel included, represented and respected.

Creating inclusive content extends beyond language translation and showing images of diverse groups of people and often involves adapting content to meet the unique information needs and values of a population or community. The select principles offered below are some of the many we can use in our work.

Different materials and messages for different cultures and communities

In the context of communications, cultural adaptation is the tailoring of messages and interventions to reflect an audience’s culture, language and values. Adaptations are largely done to ensure success among a particular culture or group and often involve designing core strategies and messages with input from the affected community to create an initiative that builds from and addresses their beliefs, cultural norms and barriers to acceptance.

Many of the nation’s leading health initiatives for reducing diet-related diseases over the past 25 years—such as the National Diabetes Prevention Program, Million Hearts, National Diabetes Education Program and National Kidney Disease Education Program—have followed cultural adaptation principles.

Program planners recognized that “one-size-fits-all” approaches that do not account for differences between audiences would not drive message acceptance or behavior change. Instead, they relied on gathering and applying input from people with lived experiences, addressed social determinants impacting the groups at greatest risk and introduced educational resources that incorporated culturally appropriate elements, such as language, faith and storytelling to create impactful messages.

Use respectful language

Respectful communication is critical for making your audience feel valued, encouraged to share ideas and open to the possibility of continued engagement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication, respectful communication is a faceted principle with many elements, including using preferred terms for population groups and communities, using people-first language that puts the person before the condition or circumstance being discussed (for example, “person with type 2 diabetes” instead of “diabetic”) and avoiding terms that carry a violent connotation when referring to groups, communities and health conditions.

This last point happens commonly in our work as it can lead to attention-grabbing names or slogans. An internet search of the term “fight obesity” yields thousands of results that include campaign names, news headlines, nutrition programs and products. But does this term oversimplify the complexities of diet, weight loss and reversing obesity trends? Could it lead to stigma, making a person feel as if they have a flaw that needs to be fought or resolved through forceful means?

Make messages clear and understandable

Acceptance and credibility of your message often depend on how well the audience understands it. In its guidelines for developing effective communications, the World Health Organization encourages communicators to develop clear messages after first answering audience-centered planning questions, such as, “How familiar is the audience with the topic?” and “What action do we want the audience to take?” These simple yet critical questions can help you develop messages that provide actionable steps for the audience to follow.

Clear communication also considers plain language principles and the value of using words, sentence structures and design elements to make content easier to read and understand. Health numeracy, which is the ability to understand and use numbers for health decision-making, is another important consideration, especially for diet-related content which often requires measurements and calculations.

Use images that are inclusive and reflective

People want to see themselves, their communities and their cultures reflected in positive and accurate ways. When developing inclusive communication products, use audience-appropriate images and design elements that help your messages resonate.

Real-person storytelling through testimonials may also help audience members see themselves reflected and feel more motivated to act. Get audience input and reaction to all creative elements to ensure it feels reflective and authentic and doesn’t stereotype or stigmatize.

Whether we are working to develop public education initiatives, guide advocacy or policy efforts, or build programs that increase access to healthy foods and reduce disease, it’s imperative that we help all Americans feel represented and respected. Using inclusive communication principles, we can work towards achieving health equity with tailored approaches that resonate with communities most affected by diet-related diseases.


Candice Watkins Robinson is Vice President, Director of Multicultural Marketing and Communications for Hager Sharp.