Public Health in the Digital Age

This highly relevant series will explore the use of social and digital media as it is currently being used in the field of public health. Seminar will include discussions of innovative public health programming ideas, evidence-based practices using social and digital media as well as ehealth challenges being implemented by a variety of public health organizations.


Virality and Word-Of-Mouth: Drivers of Social Transmission

September 21 (Wednesday) 12:00pm - 1:00pm | Flyer

Sponsored by the Penn Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research (CECCR) and the Center for Public Health Initiatives (CPHI)

Featuring Jonah Berger, PhD
James G. Campbell Assistant Professor of Marketing
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Engagement and Education through Digital and Social Media:
Text4baby and Hep B Free

October 19th (Wednesday) 12:00pm - 1:30pm | Flyer

Join us to learn about and discuss how public health programs in our region have successfully harnessed the power of digital and social media.

Text4Baby (, a program launched by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition is the first free health text messaging service in the U.S. The program supports moms by providing accurate, text-length health information and resources in a format that is personal and timely, using a channel she knows and uses.

Hep B Free Philadelphia ( is a citywide, community-owned education campaign launched to increase testing and vaccination in the fight against hepatitis B and liver cancer. This campaign has successfully used social media to bring people together, via “flashmobs” and raise awareness about their work.

Presenters will include:

  • JoAnne Fischer
    Executive Director
    Maternity Care Coalition
  • Kathrin Brellochs, MSW
    Director of Public Health Programs
    Maternity Care Coalition
  • Chari Cohen, MPH
    Associate Director of Public Health
    Hepatitis B Foundation
  • Raymond Lum, MPhil, MS
    Associate Professor, Department of Health Management and Policy
    Drexel University School of Public Health

Will Cutting Edge Technology Innovation Drive Change in the Health Care System?

November 10th (Thursday) 3:00pm - 4:30pm | Flyer

Featuring Matthew Holt
Author, The Health Care Blog
Co-Chairman, Health 2.0: Conference, the Media Network, the Innovation Community

Matthew Holt has spent around 20 years in health care as a researcher, generalist forecaster, and strategist. He’s conducted in-depth studies about the health care market, information technology and policy for public release and private clients. He learned from some of the best in forecasting, policy and survey organizations, like Institute for the Future and Harris Interactive. But these days he’s best known as the author of The Health Care Blog and as the co-founder of the Health2.0 Conference.

The Health 2.0 Conference is the leading showcase of cutting-edge innovation transforming the health care system. Since its beginning in 2007, Health 2.0 has served as a community resource for search and online tools to help consumers manage their health and connect to providers. Now that the industry has caught up, Health 2.0 covers the entire cloud, web, mobile and unplatforms technology revolution that is shaking up every sector of health care. For more, visit

Public Health Research: There's an App for That

January 23rd (Monday) 12:00pm - 1:30pm | Flyer | Presenter Bios
Location: Amado Recital Hall, Irvine Auditorium, 3401 Spruce Street


  • Raina Merchant, MD MSHP, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
    Increasingly, scientists are using the wisdom of crowds to solve important public health problems. It's clear that today's "networked society" is eager to come together virtually to solve a challenge and to innovate. Dr. Merchant's lecture will focus on the anatomy of crowdsourcing - how and why it works - using examples from the Penn MyHeartMap Challenge and other public health initiatives.
  • Ian Bennett, MD PhD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania
    Ian Bennett, Senior Fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives, will describe several internet based applications for computer and mobile devices which are part of ongoing public health projects. The role of web-apps as part of larger public health efforts as well as their design and evaluation will be discussed using experiences with specific projects including the nationally recognized

Use and Challenges of Health Research Across Disciplines Using Social and Digital Media

February 13th (Monday) 12:00pm - 1:30pm | Flyer
Location: Terrace Room, Claudia Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th Street
Lunch will be provided
Co-sponsored with the Center for Health Behavior Research


  • Amy L. Gonzales, PhD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar,
    University of Pennsylvania
    The Effects of Social Media Use on Mental and Physical Health
    Social media is used by the majority of Americans on a daily basis. What are the health implications for these practices? Amy Gonzales, a researcher at the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society scholar program, will present data on the ways in which everyday social media (e.g. cellphones, texting, Facebook, etc.) may influence mental and physical health. She'll also describe new technologies that have been designed to change health behaviors and improve health, including eating behaviors in children or social interactions in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Lyle H. Ungar, PhD, Associate Professor of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania
    Estimating well-being from Tweets and Facebook Posts
    The words people use on social media such as Twitter and Facebook are a rich, if imperfect, source of information about their personality and psychological state. This talk will give an introduction to recent work in estimating subjective well-being from social media word use, focusing on an effort at Penn to use tweets and Facebook posts to characterize variations in PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment) over time and location. These estimates of psychological states correlate significantly with a variety of health outcomes as measured by Gallup polls and the CDC.
    Joint work with Andy Schwartz, Johannes Eichstaedt, Peggy Kern, Stephanie Ramones, Lukasz Dziurzynski and Martin Seligman

Dan Savage and the It Gets Better Campaign

March 19th (Monday) 8:00pm
Location: Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Zellerbach Theater, 3680 Walnut Street
Co-sponsored with the Social Planning and Events Committee


Flyer | Facebook event

Tickets are now sold out! Thanks to everyone who reserved them.

Originally known for his advice column Savage Love, Dan Savage is now a household name thanks to his It Gets Better video project on YouTube. The project, which has gained immense popularity since its creation in mid-September 2010, asks people to make and upload short positive videos about their experiences about the LGBT community. Millions have viewed the videos and participated so far, including President Barack Obama and entertainer Janet Jackson. Advertising Age has called It Gets Better one of the top social media campaigns of 2010.

In June 2011, Savage won a Webby Special Achievement Award from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for the project. A month later, Savage was named one of the 2011 "Power 50" by Out magazine for the campaign's tremendous impact on the LGBT community and was also selected for O, The Oprah Magazine's 2011 O Wow! list of breakthrough achievers.

His new book is titled It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living.

Series co-sponsors