By Doug Hattaway

On a fall evening in 2019, six residents of San Jose, California, filed into a market research facility, seated themselves around a nondescript conference room table, and peered curiously at the double-sided mirror at the other end of the room.

This was the first of several focus groups across the country aimed at a simple purpose: How do you get members of the general public to understand and support public health? The moderator kicked things off with a simple question: “If someone tells you they work in public health, what do you think they do?”


That scene occurred a few months before the field of public health was thrust into the public eye like never before with the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s an excerpt from a new book, Talking Health: A New Way to Communicate About Public Health.

Talking Health is the latest resource from the de Beaumont Foundation, which is working hard to equip public health professionals everywhere with research-based tools and messaging to build support for the mission.

As part of its ambitious PHRASES program (Public Health Reaching Across Sectors), the foundation asked the Hattaway team and our friends at the Framework Institute to produce tools for communicating with the public, collaborating with their communities, and more.

Published by Oxford University Press and authored by leading voices in health and communication, Talking Health is packed with insights and tools you can use to communicate more effectively,strengthen community partnerships, and improve public health outcomes.

I was honored to be among those voices. The Hattaway team contributed ideas from our PHRASES research and insights from more than a decade of working with public-health leaders at the World Health Organization, Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, American Heart Association, Planned Parenthood, and others.

The chapter I co-authored with Hattaway alum Eric Zimmermann includes Winning Words for communicating about public health—simple, vivid language to describe the need for public health. For example: “Threats to our health can come from all kinds of places—the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.”

Familiar, concrete language—not public-health jargon—helps people picture how public health relates to their lives. As explained in Talking Health, stories that put people in the picture can be useful in explaining complex problems and the role of public health professionals in addressing them.

Despite the public scrutiny since the out break of Covid-19, we can’t assume people who aren’t experts in the field—including decision-makers in government and business—know what they need to know. It will take ongoing engagement and effective communication to continue building support for investments in public health and cooperation with public health professionals.

Talking Health and PHRASES equips you to do just that. If you’d like to discuss your communications goals and challenges, feel free to reach out to us at


 -Doug Hattaway