Moms who blog: the underrated changemakers in health

Women are the more active gender on online social networks. We’re also the healthcare decisionmakers in most families, too. Taken together, these two facts help explain why women–moms in particular–often are responsible for using the web to bring powerful stories from the grassroots level to the world, effecting real change in healthcare at a time when women’s health is being used as a political football.

To learn more about the topic I spoke with Deb Levine, a pioneer when it comes to using the web as a tool for social change related to health information access and technology. She founded the award-winning online sexual health Q&A site Go Ask Alice, and recently won an award from the White House for her team’s design of an app used to help prevent dating violence at colleges and universities.

Levine, a mother of two, observed that being a mom “informs all of [her] work and writing” and is “an overarching influence” on her.

“Women who are mothers are writing about sensitive issues,” she continued. “[They] are the people who, in bringing health issues to the forefront, are pushing healthcare reform and access while also bringing attention to important issues like maternal mortality.”

Perhaps the idea of what “mommy bloggers” can do for the world should be rethought. After all, moms are the ones who have the insight, the blogs and the networks to bring stories about sensitive health issues to the world. If the slew of moms who blog about their lives took an additional step of adding health topics to what their blogs cover, it would help disseminate information and possibly push the pace of change in healthcare–change which we urgently need.

Below, I’ll discuss six moms doing important work to improve healthcare and the tools available in health for the wellness of themselves and their families–and ultimately, of all of us.

1) Deb Levine – Trustworthy health information access for young adults

Levine built what’s known by many as the first major health Q&A site, Go Ask Alice; it was also named by Stanford University as the most accurate reproductive health info site on the Internet. The site’s success–it receives over 1.5 million hits per month–illustrates what Levine’s work showed us: that “topics considered to be shameful and embarrassing like sex are best discussed behind a screen–computer screen then, mobile phone and PDA today.” Today Levine directs a nonprofit, Internet Sexuality Information Services, and is organizing next month’s conference, Sex::Tech, on new media, youth, and sexual health.

2) Elita Kalma – Information for women of color on the health role breastfeeding plays

Kalma founded the Blacktating blog, where she shares stories of joys and frustrations she experienced while breastfeeding her son. She’s a role model and important information source for the black community, where childrens’ breastfeeding rates are about 50 percent lower at birth compared with white children. Kalma also advocates for moms of color within the mainstream media. She publicly questioned why several articles in major media outlets on Beyonce’s choice to breastfeed failed to even mention the choice’s specific implications for the 12 percent of U.S. citizens who are black. As First Lady Michelle Obama and the Surgeon General have both stressed, breastfeeding can help counter child obesity and can make children better off on a range of health issues–so for women of color, the importance of education as well as role models is great for ensuring a healthy future.

3) Jodi Jacobson – Advocacy for reproductive and sexual health & justice

Visit RH Reality Check (RH stands for reproductive health) to get an idea of Jacobson’s impact. She’s the Editor-in-Chief there and writes regularly about news events that stand to impact reproductive health rights. For example, Jacobson was partially responsible for publicizing and drumming up outcry against the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s policy change in February that, were it not reversed, would have denied preventative health services to thousands of women. In addition to providing information directly to the masses on this site, Jacobsen frequently weighs in as an expert cited in mainstream publications including the Lancet and The Economist. She also founded and led the Center for Health and Gender Equity, an internationally-influential organization that produces cutting-edge research on international policies and programs.

4) Robin Strongin – Elimination of “gatekeepers” to drive disruptive change in health

The name of the blog Strongin created sums it up: Disruptive Women in Health Care. The blog’s been around since 2008 and serves as a platform for “provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in health.” Strongin realized that the health sphere needed input and direction from some outsiders in order to advance the pace of change. Today bloggers post on her site about underreported issues such as the surprising shortage of primary care physicians or the need for better incentives for mobile health in the U.S. Thus, the blog serves to amplify the voices of its contributors through its coverage in mainstream media outlets such as CBS.

5) Penelope Trunk – Creation of dialogue around miscarriage and working women’s health issues

Trunk writes a popular blog about “the intersection between work and life” and regularly posts Tweets shared on her site as well. When she inadvertently created an uproar by tweeting about her own miscarriage, however, her influence on society’s acceptance and understanding of health issues was made clear, too. Major outlets such as ABC, CNN and AOL covered the reactions to the tweet, serving to shed light on the misplaced shame that sometimes complicates understanding and support of health issues.

6) Mary Brune – Connecting moms to information about toxic environmental risks

Brune’s work highlights important information that impacts infant health as well as environmental health conditions that touch us all. Her site, MOMS–which stands for “Making Our Milk Safe”–was founded to bring mothers together to collaborate for a healthier and safer environment for their children. It publicizes risks and protection measures on toxics, and has been featured in a PBS special on toxic toys.

What are your thoughts on how moms can blog for change in healthcare? What have I missed?


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