Let us give Chris Christie’s latest exploits a rest today. I was in a zombie mood today and decided to revisit a CDC zombie initiative from 2011. In the less comedic galaxy of public health, the world also needs saving from premature mortality and morbidity. The rightfully respected CDC made a venture into the “zombie apocalypse”, educating the public about emergency preparedness with a zombie novella. Unfortunately disaster planning leaves much in the public with obvious missteps in policy formulation and execution. Maggie Silver, a contributor to the CDC Public Health Matters blog, had even taken to giving the play by play on how to stay alive based on lessons learned (or not learned so well) based on the popular zombie feast, The Walking Dead (http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2012/02/thewalkingdead/). It is an ingenious leverage of marketing hard to reach populations with health information in light of increasing occurrence of natural disasters (http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm). It has been reported by the Washington Post that Twitter followers increased ten-fold for the unsexy CDC’s Emergency Preparedness division shortly after Silver’s blog went live (Bell, 2011).
The line between influential and conceptual health policy is hazy. On one hand, the CDC policy behind green lighting such novel communication channels may have come from the need to increase knowledge of emergency preparedness (conceptual) in the light of recent natural disasters. But the CDC is also in the business of saving lives. In preparation for all hazards, many deaths and injuries can be averted by knowing what to do before the “zombie apocalypse”, the CDC’s allegory for natural disasters. The blogosphere was chockfull of pundits decrying with the use of the federal money to educate the living on not becoming undead. Dear pundits, zombies are not real. Such a falsehood was not disseminated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The CDC, as the trusted source, would eliminate the chance of a phishing hoax. Zombies did not spark alert on the Public Broadcast System. I did not hear any upheaval as in ,vis a vis, Orson Welles. Branscum & Sharma (2009) reviewed the use of comics in health promotions targeted at children. More often, the comics are not a standalone intervention (Branscum & Sharma, 2009). But from an ethical standpoint, could the realness of the campaign blur the lines between entertainment to inform versus realistic entertainment that “warns”. But let us get this straight. The undead’s purpose in life (generously defined as so) is to make more undead in order to have more slowly shuffling company of the Cesar Romero variety. I have yet to have met a nonliving zombie in my traverses about town. Art can and has been an effective vehicle to slyly introduce health information but care must be taken in assuring that there is no confusion in the public as to its purpose.
The CDC is working behind the scenes with evidence based public health interventions and is not trying to take over the pedestal of DC Comics. The jury is still out as to the effectiveness of the zombie campaign. In the area of viral impact, The Washington Post reported that social media interest in the zombies crashed the CDC website (Bell, 2011). I argue that this venture into comics (while perhaps not a novella about zombies in every case) has some lessons for the health policy set to see what the other side (promotion) is doing. Should there be a policy set that deals with entertainment for social change (See the work on edu-tainment from Arvind Singhal of UTEP)?
Branscum, Paul; Sharma, Manoj. COMIC BOOKS AN UNTAPPED MEDIUM FOR HEALTH PROMOTION.Source: American Journal of Health Studies . 2009, Vol. 24 Issue 4, p430-439. 10p.
Bell, Melissa. 5/20/11.Zombie apocalypse a coup for CDC emergency team.
CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.(http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm)
Silver, Maggie. (February 7, 2012). Teachable Moments – Courtesy of The Walking Dead on AMC. Public Health Matters Blog. Retrieved on 12-6-13 from
Some selected work from Dr. Arvind Singhal:
Communication of Innovations (2006)
Organizing for Social Change (2006)
Entertainment-Education Worldwide: History, Research, and Practice (2004)
Entertainment-Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change (1999)