Health-focused awareness days dot the calendar each year. There’s World Health Day, World Dolphin Day, World Lupus Day and hundreds more.
Whether they actually boost action on specific health issues isn’t clear, however.
But a new study reports that one event — the Great American Smokeout — does have a significant impact. This is held each year on the third Thursday of November in an effort to get more people to quit smoking.
Researchers analyzed news reports and tweets since 2009 to determine whether the Great American Smokeout’s message was being heard and shared. They also checked online searches for information about quitting smoking, as well as calls to hotlines that offer counseling on how to stop smoking.
Compared to other days of the year, news reports about quitting smoking typically rose 61 percent on the day of the Great American Smokeout and tweets about quitting smoking were 13 percent higher. Researchers also found that Google searches for information about quitting smoking rose 25 percent, visits to Wikipedia on quitting smoking increased 22 percent, and calls to smoking hotlines rose 42 percent.
That translated into about 61,000 more smoking cessation-related Google searches, Wikipedia visits and calls to hotlines each year, according to the study. The findings were published March 31 in the journal JMIR Public Health and Surveillance.
“The Great American Smokeout is having a significant impact that far eclipsed our expectations for awareness days,” study leader John Ayers, a research professor at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, said in a university news release.
He added that assessing the impact of awareness days has been difficult, but the method used in this study “shows how we can rapidly and efficiently evaluate hundreds of awareness days, many for the first time.”
The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.