Completed projects

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Communicating Sun Protection

The goal of this project was to understand how parents, journalists, and community leaders think about sun protection and skin cancer. The Viswanath Lab’s multi-media communication facility ( was used to develop and test different communication messages that could increase the appeal of sun protection messages in local media. The Lab worked under the assumption that a community-based mass media communication campaign to promote awareness about skin cancer and sun protection could potentially increase awareness, change behaviors, and increase support for sun protection policies in schools and other community institutions.

Communication about Cancer and the Environment

It is well known that public perceptions of risk and vulnerability about cancer and environment are shaped by people's exposure to communication messages. Based on this assumption, the Viswanath Lab addressed these two main challenges:

  1. How to communicate accurate risk information about cancer and the environment, taking into account the information environment that is contradicting and competing with science-based information
  2. How to overcome barriers faced by underserved groups in accessing and using risk information about cancer

Communication Inequality

Dr. Viswanath and his co-investigators worked with low-income residents of Boston to explore the ways in which individuals made decisions about communication and information services. For example, what technologies did they see as absolutely necessary, as opposed to expendable luxuries? Emerging themes helped the researchers understand how new media technologies are impacting the information and communication strategies of low-income Boston residents. It also helped the Lab better understand the types of communication and information inequalities that result.

MassCONECT (Massachusetts Community Networks to Eliminate Cancer Disparities through Education, Research, and Training)

One of the National Cancer Institute's Community Networks Programs, MassCONECT brought together Harvard School of Public Health, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, and community partners in Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester. The researchers' primary goal was to reduce cancer and other health disparities in these urban Massachusetts communities. To do this, they engaged key partners, including major policy makers, to develop and increase capacity and to support community-based education, research, and training.

National Cancer Institute Journalists Survey

Health and medical science journalists play a prominent role in setting the health agenda for the nation, yet little is known about how these reporters’ professional practices influence the ways in which health issues are framed. Researchers in the Viswanath Lab surveyed US health and medical science reporters and editors to illuminate methods used to produce health news. The researchers also collected data regarding the racial, ethnic, and educational backgrounds of the reporters and of editors.

The survey revealed that the practices of journalists vary greatly depending on a number of factors, from education level to the size and capacity of the news organization. For example, respondents with a bachelor’s degree or less were more likely to use a human-interest angle in their health stories and less likely to use scientific journals as sources. This was also true of respondents from smaller organizations. More research remains to be done, but the data provided an important snapshot of the ways in which medicine, health, and the media interact.

Tobacco-Free Teachers, Tobacco-Free Society (India)

Tobacco-related diseases are a growing issue in developing countries. India, with an estimated 250 million smokers, faces an enormous health and economic burden in coming years. This study is a randomized controlled trial conducted in the Indian state of Bihar, a region with high rates of tobacco use.

The target population in this intervention is teachers, who have a great influence over students and the community at large. Teachers in the intervention group will be given smoking cessation materials, such as brochures and newsletters, all in Hindi. A "lead" teacher will promote discussions of cessation, and a health educator will visit the schools every few months to further promote smoking cessation. Researchers will also conduct a policy assessment and a process evaluation.

TReND (Tobacco Research Network on Disparities)

Transdisciplinary by design, TReND ( includes researchers from a variety of disciplines who aim to stimulate new studies, address gaps in tobacco disparity research, and disseminate best practices. Dr. Viswanath serves on TReND’s steering committee. Through TReND, the Viswanath Lab has worked on several projects related to tobacco disparities and media exposure.

Usability Testing: “Become an Ex”

Researchers in the Viswanath Lab conducted usability tests for the American Legacy Foundation's "Become an Ex" smoking cessation campaign. The goal of this campaign was to encourage smokers to "relearn" how to live their life without smoking. The "Become an Ex" website featured a cigarette tracker and list of trigger habits such as drinking coffee, stress, and boredom. Through the site’s interactivity, smokers could see in a concrete way how much they smoked and what was causing them to smoke in the first place. The site’s social networking component made it possible for users to join the "ex community" and connect with other people who have quit or were trying to quit.

WITS (Well-Informed, Thriving, and Surviving)

Through WITS, the Viswanath Lab explored factors that motivate cancer patients and survivors to seek information, and possible connections between disparities in cancer survival rates and information-seeking habits. The goals of the study were to:

  • Describe the information-seeking patterns of recently diagnosed cancer patients and cancer survivors
  • Explore whether there are differences in patterns among patients and survivors from different racial/ethnic and socioeconomic status backgrounds, and how such differences may be related to disparities in cancer care and outcomes
  • Describe "Proxy Information Agents"—people seeking information on behalf of patients and survivors
  • Create a survey instrument to measure format and content preferences in cancer information materials
Updated on November 12, 2015
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