Glaucoma Awareness Month kicks off a year of national health observances

Lisa Owad/Medill

Beverly Komen undergoes a glaucoma test during Glaucoma Awareness Month. Lisa Owad/Medill

By Lisa Owad
Jan. 12, 2010
Medill News Service

You could be excused for missing National Handwashing Awareness Week in December. It was one of four national health observances vying for your attention in the middle of the hectic holiday season.

Don’t despair. With the start of the new year, you’ll get a lot more reminders of ways to engage in healthy living, including six this month. Scores of organizations have received recognition for their causes on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Health Observance Calendar.

Chicago-based Prevent Blindness America, a nonprofit organization that has been promoting January’s Glaucoma Awareness Month for more than 20 years, describes the awareness campaign as an opportunity to get the word out about the disease.

A bus stop poster encouraging radon testing in downtown Chicago promotes National Radon Action Month. Lisa Owad/Medill

“Our hope is that [the campaign] would encourage someone to go to an eye doctor and get their eyes examined,” said Sarah Hecker, a spokeswoman for Prevent Blindness America. “If there are some new studies or new treatments, we try to make people aware.”

Organizations value inclusion on the federal health awareness calendar for its ability to raise awareness about their causes. While non-profits like Prevent Blindness America don’t have the funds to create a major campaign for a national health observance, this enables them to offer information about disease, as well as help patients to find a doctor or clarify their financial options.

The observances also allow the sponsoring organizations to update their own information. Glaucoma Awareness Month “gives us a chance to make sure all of our material is updated,” Hecker said. All of their informational materials are approved by scientific committees. “We’re the non-profit, they’re the experts,” Hecker said.

During the year, the observances range from National School Breakfast Week to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. May and October have the most observances, with 42 and 30 events, respectively.

For an observance to be integrated into the National Health Observance Calendar, the event must be sponsored by a national organization recognized by Congress, the White House or the department, according to the health and human services Web site.

National Radon Action Month is another January health observance. The Environmental Protection Agency uses it to encourage families to reduce their risk of lung cancer from the poisonous gas. Promotional activities across the country range from transit posters in Chicago to billboards in Kentucky to a poster contest in New York.

Related Links:
The 2010 National Health Observances Calendar
Information about Prevent Blindness America

January national health observances:
-Cervical Health Awareness Month
-Glaucoma Awareness Month
-National Birth Defects Prevention Month
-National Radon Action Month
-Thyroid Awareness Month
-National Folic Acid Awareness Week (Jan. 4 – 10)

See this article at the Medill News Service

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