You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our site.

The challenges of health communication in a modern world of entertainment

22 Jun, 12 | by Karim Khan

Sport and Exercise Medicine: The UK trainee perspective (A twice-monthly series on the BJSM blog)

By Dr Wilby Williamson

Preaching about physical activity and demanding compliance with 150 minutes of activity per week, as I do with my friends and family, often falls on deaf ears.  Changing tack to discuss differences between London’s bus drivers and conductors in the 1950s and challenging my peers to a 2 minute wiggle at least allows me to stay for dinner!  Health communication is certainly a challenge, complicated by perceptions of risk and medical uncertainty.  But as professionals practicing evidence-based medicine, we have signed up to translate evidence and facilitate informed decision making.

Dr Mike Evans (23 and ½ hours) has shown the world that scientific evidence can be the centre fold for our communication. He has set the physical activity public engagement ball rolling; now we need to keep the momentum going, pushing the understanding beyond the pages of our esteemed journals and the feverish eyes of our professional and academic circles.  In the UK there are approximately 40 million regular online users with 50 to 60 percent using YouTube or Facebook on a monthly basis1-3. Dr Evans’ work illuminates both the potential and some of the requirements for successfully engaging these users. Winning favour with our audience is not easy, we go online seeking specific information or to be entertained. As health communicators we may have as little as 15 seconds to hook the online user. The salience, affects, and messengers all being important determinants of gaining influence. See his discussion of what he learned in this exclusive BJSM paper – click here.

Communication campaigns have to acknowledge the distinctions and idiosyncrasies between different media platforms. Consumers may use multiple media sources at any one time and the lines between the offline and online environments are becoming increasingly blurred. 80 percent of twittering is via mobile devices and twitter is one of the fastest growing online platforms with 23% of the UK audience liking the occasional tweet1-4. Aspirations, in the modern world of communications are not only to go viral but to package material for the small screen and seek user generated content as a sign of success. Posts, tweets and uploads all providing measures of reach and engagement. BJSM has been customised for mobile platforms.

The skills required to launch a communications campaign go beyond the repertoire learned in the standard health communication class. Planning for an engagement project starts with getting the right multidisciplinary collaboration, with creativity and online experience being essential.

This summer, I am privileged to be working as one of the health professionals on a creative science and health communication project exploring strategies for public engagement.  Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Fidget Project is bridging the offline and online worlds of communication. The collaboration is bringing together experience from artistic, online and health & science backgrounds to provide an explanation for the message that we sit too much and need to move more. With the summer of 2012 offering endless entertainment options, encouraging our nations to sit in front of their media devices, can we coax people to consider the benefits of being a ‘frequent breaker’ and embrace adding 22 minutes of (moderate) wiggling to their day? As we tread festival fields, pitch in city centres and navigate the social media world, feel free to join the tour and see how we trend.


  1. UK Online Measurement, UK Online Media Landscape 2011.  
  2. YouGov, Social Media ‘growing up’ in UK Feb 2012
  3. Ofcom, Social Networking : A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use 2008  
  4. The Guardian, Twitter now has 10m users in UK May 2012 



Fidget  is a public engagement project funded via the Wellcome Trust’s Society Awards. The charity, London Arts in Health Forum is directing Fidget in collaboration with the installation artist Michael Pinsky and the online charity Youthnet.

Dr Wilby Williamson is a registrar in Sports and Exercise Medicine on an East of England rotation. He was a visiting researcher with the Physical Activity group at the Medical Research Council’s Diabetes and Obesity Epidemiology Unit. He is currently an associate in preventive medicine with London Arts in Health Forum.

Dr James Thing co-ordinates “Sport and Exercise Medicine: The UK trainee perspective” — a twice-monthly blog series

Sport and Exercise Medicine: A Fresh Approach – NHS Information Document

15 Feb, 12 | by Karim Khan

Guest Blog By Dr. Richard Weiler

Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) has been evolving rapidly around the globe and is gaining mainstream recognition. In the United Kingdom it formally began life in 2005, when the Chief Medical Officer at the time, Liam Donaldson, pledged to develop the specialty as a commitment to the London 2012 Olympics. 2012 has arrived and the specialty of Sport & Exercise Medicine is slowly gaining a foothold in the publicly funded UK National Health Service (NHS).

Photo courtesy of M+MD, Flickr CC

We have an established Faculty of Sport & Exercise Medicine and a fairly comprehensive and evolving 4-year specialist training programme. There are currently about 50 specialist trainees in training across the country and about 10 doctors have become specialists in SEM in the last couple of years.

Challenging economic climates have resulted in new measures being implemented by the government. ‘Market forces’ have been suggested as a means to ensure funds are targeted locally and efficiently for patient needs. This has resulted in an urgent need for the fledgling SEM specialty to justify its existence and demonstrate patient benefit and cost effectiveness in order to establish new SEM services and maintain existing services. Not easy for something that has only existed for a few years. A major obstacle when speaking to those holding the funds is the lack of understanding about what SEM specialists can offer the NHS. Is it about elite sport, athletes and the Olympics or is it about exercise, gyms and running?

The truth is mostly ‘none of the above’ for the general population, so late in 2011 we published an NHS Information Document, explaining what an SEM specialist offers the NHS and NHS patients. This is broadly based on education, research, musculoskeletal, sports medicine, physical activity for prevention of chronic disease and physical activity prescribed in the treatment of chronic disease (exercise medicine).

We hope this peer reviewed NHS Information Document, endorsed by all the key UK organisations in the SEM field, will be helpful to our colleagues and fellow MDT members both in the UK and around the world.

The rest as they say is history, or in the wise words of Master Yoda “Always in motion is the future.”

Click here for NHS Information Document: Sport & Exercise Medicine. A Fresh approach

The publication involved the collaboration of too many people to thank individually, but the co-authors, whom were all SEM trainees at the time of writing, all deserve individual mention (in no particular order). Natasha Jones, Kate Hutchings, Matt Stride, Ademola Adejuwon, Polly Baker, Jo Larkin and Stephen Chew.


Dr Richard Weiler has been working with NHS North West and the Department of Health on various projects to develop Sport and Exercise Medicine on the NHS

23 and a half hours video passes 2 million views!

12 Dec, 11 | by Karim Khan

Mike Evans circulated this to his hockey team of kids early in December 2011.  #1 educational video on YouTube. Remember that low fitness (<30 mins of physical activity daily) kills more Americans that smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined (smokadiabesity).

Click on this link. Watch it, share it. Do it yourself.

Encourage patients to watch it and start today! Great ‘sticky’ message capturing Steve Blair’s evidence that this treatment will save more American’s lives than a cure for smoking, diabetes and obesity put together. That’s a fact!

It passed 2 million views in February, 2012. Wow!!

BJSM blog homepage


A peer review journal for health professionals and researchers in sport and exercise medicine. Visit site

Creative Comms logo

Latest from British Journal of Sports Medicine

Latest from British Journal of Sports Medicine