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NYC health system launches social media campaign to promote reproductive health information with adolescents

July 18, 2016 — NYC Health & Hospitals on Monday launched a new outreach campaign to encourage people between the ages 12 to 21 to visit the public health system for confidential sexual and reproductive health care, the New York Times reports.

Campaign details

The public health system aims to connect with young people through the campaign by running promotional material on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.

The campaign shares various images, including emojis of eggplants and peaches, that include the caption: "Need to talk to someone about 'it'?" Information on how to access emergency contraception confidentially will be promoted via a monkey emoji with its hands over its mouth.

The social media posts lead users to NYC Health & Hospitals' new website, which provides directions to the 20 YouthHealth services centers in New York City. In addition, the website emphasizes that young people can obtain reproductive health care, such as treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy testing, no matter their immigration status, ability to pay, sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Richard Zapata, outreach and education manager for population health at NYC Health & Hospitals, said the campaign in part aims to boost the number of adolescents who seek care at the health system.

According to a Health & Hospitals release, the health system in 2015 provided care for about 152,000 teenage patients. Of those patients, Health & Hospitals provided STI testing for more than 38,000 teenagers, pregnancy tests for about 30,000 teenagers and birth services for about 2,400 teenagers.

Zapata noted that many teenagers in the area seem to be unaware that they can seek certain sexual and mental health care confidentially, and such care does not require parental notification. Further, according to Zapata, focus groups found that many teenagers do not talk with their parents about sex.

"It's hard to talk to someone about pregnancy testing," Zapata said, adding, "Those conversations aren't really happening that much at home."

Separately, Warren Seigel, chair of the department of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Coney Island Hospital, pointed to the diverse backgrounds of many of his patients, noting, "Because of their parents' religious and cultural background, teenagers are not encouraged at home to talk about their sexual health."

Seigel said that with the outreach campaign, "We're taking away all of the excuses for adolescents not to enroll in health care."

However, Elizabeth Schroeder -- a sexuality educator, trainer and consultant -- raised concerns that the social media messages might be unclear to young people who do not speak English as their first language. "The question is whether these are the images that will get the most attention," she said. Referring to an emoji image in the campaign, she added, "I wonder whether younger people even get the language of the birds and the bees."

Nonetheless, Zapata said teenagers in focus groups said the images were relatable. In his words, the focus group made clear to Zapata that "[t]his is the way we're talking" (Schmidt, New York Times, 7/17).