Program works to reduce Iowa’s unintended pregnancies

BY SAM LANE | OCTOBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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Informed hair stylists and a funny-looking stork mascot may be the key to educating women on unintended pregnancies and contraceptives.

The Iowa Initiative, which aims to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies in Iowa and the nation, is employing those unique tactics in its new research program.

Both nationally and in Iowa, roughly half of pregnancies among women ages 18 to 30 are unintended.

The Iowa Initiative Research Program, based in Des Moines, has five projects, with some underway and others set to begin in the upcoming weeks. One of the projects involves experts training hair stylists to pick up client cues that may indicate they’re concerned about an unintended pregnancy.

“If someone is concerned, stylists will be able to offer guidance, tell their clients about the Iowa Initiative, and send them in the right direction,” said Deb Madison-Levi, the initiative’s director of operations and communication.

Stylists can be used as “conduits of information,” said Mary Losch, who leads a group of behavioral-health experts in the research group from University of Northern Iowa, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and the UI.

“Stylists have a unique rapport with their clients,” said Losch, also a psychology professor at UNI.

After evaluating Iowa women’s knowledge of contraceptives a year ago, the group launched its social marketing campaign “Stork Overnight Delivery Service,” at the UI one week ago.

Using a comical stork to get out the message of preventing unintended pregnancies, the project involves reaching out to women through mass media, the Internet, live events, and giveaways.

“The stork is intentionally humorous,” said Michelle Campo, a UI associate professor and a principal investigator for the Iowa Initiative’s Social Marketing campaign. “We want conversation, not confrontation.”

Students like Erica Spies are also working with Iowa Initiative. Spies started in 2007, beginning with research into the type of campaign the initiative would use. Since then, she said, she has seen the website and campaign grow.

“The website talks to women in a friendly, down-to-earth way,” Spies said. “People know the stork from cartoons, and it’s a figure that makes it easier to talk about these issues.”

The campaign also involves two 32-episode, 15-minute radio soap operas, an entertaining approach to getting out public-health messages.

“Our primary goal is to entertain,” Campo said. “We don’t want a 32-episode lecture.”

Mary Aquilino, an assistant dean of the UI College of Public Health, is one of the experts involved in the Initiative’s Community Pharmacy Study.

The study, which will begin in two to three weeks, will work with pharmacies across the state to increase the marketing and prominence of contraceptives in their stores.

“We want to get people to talk about and actually use contraceptives,” Aquilino said.

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