New Lerner Gift Amplifies the Impact of Healthy Mondays and Public Health Initiatives
November 29, 2023
Words that resonate, a memorable message and the power of the media to inspire action—these are fundamental to improving public health and foundational to the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion and Population Health. Established at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in 2011 with a gift from Sidney “Sid” Lerner ’53 and his wife, Helaine, the Lerner Center has brought together students, faculty and disciplines from across the University to bring marketing and promotion best practices to public health.
Now, with a new $2.52 million gift to the Lerner Center and the Forever Orange Campaign, Helaine Lerner strives to amplify the impact of the center’s work to educate, inspire and empower a new generation of advocates for public health: “We hope the center can build on Sid’s creative vision and legacy to train the next generation of skilled, smart and tech savvy individuals who can modernize and broaden the impact of public health promotion.”
Sid Lerner, who died at the age of 90 in 2021, was a legend in the advertising business, helping to create the “Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” campaign featuring Mr. Whipple for his client, Procter & Gamble. He applied his gift for developing a simple and compelling message to improving public health after a conversation he had with physicians about the need to cut back on dietary saturated fats. “That was the genesis of the Meatless Monday campaign, an idea that became a global phenomenon,” says Peggy Neu, former president of the Monday Campaigns, the nonprofit public health organization behind the Meatless Monday movement. “Sid figured it would be a lot easier for people to grasp the idea of just skipping a day of meat, rather than measuring their intake of saturated fats at each meal.”
The Meatless Monday campaign, which reportedly convinced two-thirds of Americans to reduce meat consumption, grew in spirit and morphed into a Healthy Monday movement, transforming the first day of the work week as a day when Sid Lerner said “all health breaks loose.” According to Neu, the interdisciplinary approach at Syracuse University that combines the expertise in communications from the Newhouse School of Public Communications with the focus on public policy and engaged citizenship at the Maxwell School is highly effective in amplifying the impact of the movement.
Over the past several years, the Lerner Center has launched numerous health promotion programs and community partnerships, including the Monday Mile walking routes developed in partnership with the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, city parks, local hospitals and the Madison County Rural Health Council.
The new gift will allow the Lerner Center to initiate new programs, expand reach and enhance impact. For example:
- Syracuse University will house the Healthy Monday website, develop new content, manage social media channels and develop new partnerships with targeted populations, like veterans, educators and media.
- A Social Impact Investigation Competition would be launched to engage students in creating novel solutions to pressing public health challenges.
- Classroom competitions will inspire new approaches to the dissemination of public health information.
- A new undergraduate seminar will focus on best practices in health communication and marketing, health policy, and population health research and translation.
- New short courses in health promotion and best practices will be marketed to other higher education institutions.
- Seed grants will encourage research related to population health and public health communications.
“This gift will enhance the Lerner Center’s ability to build evidence about the strategies that can best help Americans live longer and healthier lives and to train tomorrow’s leaders on how to use that evidence to influence policy,” says Shannon Monnat, Lerner Chair in Public Health Promotion and Population Health and director of the Center for Policy Research at Maxwell.
“It’s important to make research more accessible to broader audiences,” says Lerner Center Director Alexandra Punch. “We intend to develop programming that helps undergraduates, graduate students and faculty focus on translational research that can help create new public health policies. Our programming will be action-oriented to help people readily apply health information to their own lives.”
Maxwell School Dean David M. Van Slyke says the center will collaborate with the new Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., a partnership of Maxwell and Newhouse. The institute offers a platform for evidence-based, nonpartisan research, teaching and experiential learning and could help to build trust in media and governance. “Sid Lerner was a strong believer in the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to addressing important policy challenges and using ‘sticky’ messaging to change behavior and achieve positive outcomes while providing public impact,” says Van Slyke. “We are grateful for Helaine’s continued confidence in the Maxwell School and the Lerner Center to realize her and Sid’s vision of accessible options to address public health challenges.”
The Lerner Center based at Syracuse University will work closely with Lerner Centers at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and NYU Langone to expand awareness of research and student engagement opportunities.
“One of the best ways to change policy and impact public health is to ensure that communities are empowered and educated,” says Punch. “People need to know how to find and implement information in a way that actually helps people. Students are craving these types of opportunities, to learn how to evaluate programs, how to write policy briefs, how to create impactful campaigns.”
Neu says the new gift from Helaine Lerner will pass the torch to a new generation, along with the resources to help them be successful in improving health and well-being: “They will be building on Sid Lerner’s vision and legacy.”
By Eileen Korey
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