by Donald L. Shifrin, M.D., FAAP
Over 2,000 years ago, Greek mathematicians postulated that the shortest distance between two points
is a straight line. Although present-day scholars may
quibble about that theory, there exists an applicable
corollary for media-savvy doctors wishing to connect
more effectively with interviewers: If you desire to
implant your core message, known by communicators as a SOCO (single overriding communication
objective), firmly in the listener’s memory, look no
further than mastering the art of the sound bite.
Reporters love sound bites because they often
make great headlines, as well as enhance their story.
The public quotes them because they’re memorable.
And you will benefit because they are a potent delivery system for your media messages.
Think of sound bites as the gift that keeps on giv-
ing — an opportunity to have your communication
intent continue long after the initial interview.
Their purpose is simple: leave viewers or readers
with a verbal image that reinforces what you said
and, more importantly, why you said it.
Here are some hints to create a tasty (and tasteful)
• Less is more: Keep it to one or two sentences.
o All screens teach, but are they teaching your
o Pediatricians first and foremost are child-
o The buck stops here. Trust but verify.
• Express a consistent viewpoint after you have
detailed what and why.
o Fever is a child’s friend. Respect it but do
not fear it.
o Children’s vaccines are safe and effective.
• Avoid bombastic bites: They guarantee airtime
but will reflect poor judgment.
o Any family who chooses not to vaccinate is
not welcome in our practice.
o Not vaccinating children is equivalent to
• Be specific and insightful: You can utilize con-
trast as well as paradox to paint a verbal picture
for the audience.
o We need to put a stop to seven children and
teens dying every day from gun violence.
o It is a tragedy that one out of every five Amer-
ican children lives in poverty.
• Use metaphors and similes: Make sure to dis-
close your message immediately after the bite.
o Children are not small adults. They have
unique health needs.
o Teens need parents to have their backs, not
be constantly peering over their shoulders.
o Treating obesity is like playing whack-a-
o Fighting the belief that vaccines cause autism
is like killing zombies. No matter how much
research has killed this concept, it keeps being
resurrected to walk among us again.
Like toddlers, child advocates have to use passion
and persistence to communicate effectively what all
children and teens need.
Here are a few more “spices” to mix into your
sound bite recipe:
• Rule of threes: This is almost 100% inviolate.
o Violence is now viewed as normalized, glam-
orized and desensitized on screens.
o Children’s attention issues are underdiag-
nosed, over diagnosed and misdiagnosed.
o Our mandate for concussion prevention is
education, observation and preservation.
• Contrasts and paradoxes: These invite fol-
o Substance abuse: It can start with just one pill.
o School phobia can start at home.
o B.E.D. does not stand for “bring electronic
o Children can’t vote, but they can suffer.
• Include an “ask” or something you want: This
is always a good empathetic/emotion-laden
ending to complete your message.
o Do we have the political will to … e.g., pass
legislation that will benefit our children?
o Why is it that … e.g., every year pediatricians
have to come before the legislature to pass
common sense automobile restraint laws?
• Rhyming: These can be golden, but be careful.
o Famous example: “If it doesn’t fit, you must
o What a kid needs are more reads.
o Breast is best.
o Back to sleep is the best to sleep.
o Infants need more laps than apps. (Thank you
to Dimitri Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP,
who authored this gem.)
• Avoid sloganizing if possible: Vague generalizations and slogans can leave off the “why
and how.” They can disconnect you from your
o Children are the future.
o Pediatricians know what’s best for kids.
• Invoke the Academy for heavier sound bites:
o AAP research and policies guide us to the
optimal care of children and teens.
o My final message today is that the Amer-
ican Academy of Pediatrics wants parents
to know… is strongly recommending… is
focusing on this issue because…
Crafting sound bites is not a paint-by-numbers
project. Like any media skill, consider this well-worn
rhetorical question, “How do you get to Carnegie
Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” Give your partner,
spouse and friends a chance to weigh in.
Finally, make sure that, unlike a
dog, your “bark” leads to a favorable
Dr. Shifrin is past chair of the AAP
Council on Communications and
Media Executive Committee.
Chew on this: Sound bites can help
your child health messages live on
Brief media messages that invoke AAP policy make
an enduring impact.
Eighth-graders’ illicit drug use
is at its lowest rate since 1991, and
fewer teens are using substances
such as marijuana, alcohol, tobacco
and some prescription medications,
according to an annual survey from
the National Institute on Drug Abuse and University
The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey measured
drug, alcohol and cigarette use and related attitudes
of 45,473 students from 372 public and private
Marijuana use in the past month dropped signifi-
cantly among eighth-graders to 5.4%, but has re-
mained relatively stable among 10th- and 12th-grad-
ers. In states with medical marijuana laws, however,
12th-graders had a higher rate of use. Marijuana
edibles also were more popular among teens living in
states where medical marijuana is legal, according to
the survey. For example, about 40% of 12th-graders
consumed marijuana in food in states
with medical marijuana laws vs. 28%
in other states.
Alcohol use has declined, and the
rate of teens who reported having been
drunk is the lowest in the survey’s history. Alcohol, which many teens report is easy to
get, is the most used substance by teens, and more
than half of 12th-graders reported having used it in
the past year. But binge drinking (described as five
or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks) is
declining among all grades.
Use of e-cigarettes by high school seniors also
dropped from 16.2% in 2015 to 12.4%. Marijuana
and e-cigarettes have surpassed tobacco cigarettes in
popularity among teens.
The survey has tracked substance use by 12th-grad-
ers every year since 1975, and added eighth- and
10th-graders in 1991. Read more at www.monitor
Annual survey finds youth substance use mostly declining