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NIDCD Highlights

Zeroing in on Generation "Z": Conference on Hearing Health Targets Children, Teens

Patricia Blessing, Chief of NIDCD’s Office of Communication and Public Liaison
Patricia Blessing, Chief of
NIDCD’s Office of Communication
and Public Liaison, presented
findings of a recent evaluation
of WISE EARS!®, NIDCD’s
campaign against NIHL.

On October 19–20, 2006, 120 participants representing five countries took part in a conference to discuss hearing safety among children, teens, and workers. But not today's workers. The group that convened is particularly concerned about the workers of 2016, 2017, 2018, and beyond.

"When we think of workplace safety, we think of big, burly electricians, carpenters, steel workers, and the like, but by the time a person reaches that stage, it's almost too late," says William (Billy) Martin, Ph.D., a hearing researcher at Oregon Health & Science University and the co-organizer of the event. "One of our goals is to teach children to be safe listeners when they are young so that, as adults, they will be safe workers."

It wasn't just about work though. Titled "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children at Work and Play," the conference offered a real-time snapshot of the state of our understanding of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in children and teens in all facets of their young lives. More than 50 basic and applied researchers, health professionals, and educators presented findings on topics ranging from epidemiology to cellular biology to safe sound levels for portable stereo systems to educational curricula to theoretical models for influencing behavioral change in kids, a topic that resonated with Martin.

"No matter how much we know about the science of NIHL, it's equally important to know how to take a health message and reach a target audience effectively," said Martin. "Unless we actually change a kid's behavior, all of our efforts are useless."

Patricia Blessing, chief of NIDCD's Office of Health Communication and Public Liaison, agrees. Blessing presented findings of a recent evaluation of WISE EARS!®, NIDCD's campaign against NIHL that began in 1999. After conducting an environmental scan of existing programs, resources, and media stories on NIHL as well as interviews with WISE EARS! coalition partners, the researchers made recommendations designed to provide new direction and momentum to the program. These include giving an NIHL campaign higher priority within NIDCD's communication plan, focusing on tweens (ages 9–13), and selecting partners and delivery channels with the highest potential to attract and engage the target audience.

"The prospect of developing new partnerships in the campaign to prevent NIHL is especially exciting for us at NIDCD," said Blessing. "In this day of tightening budgets, it makes sense for groups with a common goal to join forces and carry the message forward in ways that are not possible if we work individually."

Billy Martin and Deanna Meinke, co-organizers of the conference
Billy Martin and Deanna Meinke, co-organizers of the conference, answer questions from conference participants.

According to Martin, now that the conversation has started among the key players, it's important to keep it going. The next step is to publish a compendium of what's being done in the study of NIHL and youth in two peer-reviewed journals: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's American Journal of Audiology is dedicating a supplement to the analytical and scientific work in this field, while Seminars in Hearing will feature an overview of issues in the field. A 2008 National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) conference in Portland, OR, is the suggested venue for a follow-up meeting, this one featuring tours of the Dangerous Decibels® museum exhibition and workshops to teach participants how to lead classroom activities in NIHL. Dangerous Decibels is a public health partnership for the prevention of NIHL through exhibits, educational outreach, and research and was partially funded by NIDCD and the National Center for Research Resources' Science Education Partnership Award.

"In the area of hearing health, noise-induced hearing loss is the lowest fruit on the branch," says Martin. "It's the absolute easiest topic we can tackle to protect our hearing and it's nearly 100-percent preventable."

The conference, held in Cincinnati, OH, was made possible by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tasked with conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. Other sponsors were NIDCD, NHCA, the Marion Downs Hearing Center, the University of Northern Colorado, and Oregon Health & Science University.

Download a Microsoft PowerPoint file of Patricia Blessing's presentation Wising Up About NIHL: Public Education Efforts To Prevent NIHL in Children (4MB).