Susan Roberts-Dobie

Susan Roberts-Dobie "Speaks UP!"

"The era of passing out brochures and hoping people read them and change their behavior is over," according to Dr. Susan Roberts-Dobie.  "We have to find more effective ways to engage people in health education efforts."  In addition to her work as an associate professor of health promotion and education at UNI, Roberts-Dobie works as Project Director of the Speak UP! Salon Project, part of the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies.  The Speak UP! Salon Project trains hair stylists to deliver health information to clients.

The Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies has been working for five years to reduce unintended pregnancies of Iowa women, ages 18-30.  The campaign's key messages are based on focus group data from over 1,000 women.  The Salon Project supplies hair stylists with reproductive health and contraception information to communicate to their clients.  While most people think of unintended pregnancy as a teenage problem, there are more unintended pregnancies in the 18-30 range.

The project began in January 2009 and is "based on the natural rapport and trust built between a woman and her stylist."  It has been adopted in 61 salons in nine Iowa counties and more than 100 stylists have been trained.  Roberts-Dobie says the bond built between a woman and her stylist makes this an ideal relationship in which to talk about family planning, contraceptive use and parenthood.

Stylists are provided training, brochures and mirror clings and various "freebies" to distribute to their clients.  Using clever sayings such as "Does your birth control need a makeover," may prompt clients to talk with their stylist about birth control choices.   Stylists do not follow a script when talking with clients but speak conversationally about designated topics or use suggested conversation starters provided by the project staff.

Stylists serve a therapeutic function for many clients and can give advice on a deeply personal level.  This makes them great messengers of health education messages according to Dr. Roberts-Dobie.  Stylists are natural helpers and the salon is a trusted location.