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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UC Irvine Advocates for the Use of Public Health Heroes in Child Education

Researchers at UC Irvine call for the increased use of public health figures in children’s education to foster youth’s interest in the health field in an article titled “Childhood idols, shifting from superheroes to public health heroes”. The article was recently published in the Journal of Public Health (

[Photo: Public health hero Ignaz Semmelweis]

Superheroes have long been an integral part of mainstream culture, including the burgeoning universe of characters that have recently infiltrated TV and film. Fans of these heroes, especially children become infatuated with and emulate these heroes, pretending to save the mythical metropolis from villains and impending disaster with their superpowers and tools. Yet despite the ubiquitous influence these characters hold on children, they remain just fictional aspirations.

However, if the heroes who children idolize are public health heroes from the past and current times, these children can aspire to be heroes of modern health. The contributions to global and public health such as hand washing and vaccines are feats that are on par with that of superheroes, yet the figures behind these campaigns remain relatively unknown. Imagine a fictional superhero that fights malaria with gadgets that include malaria prophylaxis and insecticide-treated nets. This is just one of many heroes who can impact public health teaching. We call for the increased use of public health heroes in superhero roles as a vehicle to teach children about public health and foster them to take action as modern health heroes.

There have been previous media campaigns and comic resources that have used heroes to teach children about health; however they are limited in scope. They teach children about a disease and treatment in an understandable manner yet do not convey the message of encouraging children to take action as public health heroes. Infusing public health with a superhero mythos, storylines and comic book approach can teach children about public health. The children can embody these values to become a champion for global health in the future. The use of comics in health promotion is not novel and has been proven as an effective tool in health education. We must utilize these strategies and use superheroes as the vehicle to teach children about the innumerable contributions of public health. The inspiration of public health superheroes can further promote global health and in turn contribute to future public health.

We thank the public health heroes whose contributions and discoveries impact our lives. Manuscript authors include Ms. Melissa Nasiruddin of Midwestern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Ms. Alejandra Cabral, Ms. Melissa Soohoo and Dr. Brandon Brown from UC Irvine Program in Public Health GHREAT Initiative.