Charles Atkin Michigan State University
Alicia Marshall Cornell University
Health communication, as a recognized area of study, is a relatively new but increasingly significant specialty that encompasses both mass and interpersonal communication ( Rogers, 1994). It formally originated in the mid-1970s, when members of an International Communication Association interest group adopted the label health communication ( Sharf, 1983), although the interdisciplinary marriage between health and communication was "certainly a common-law relationship" long before that ( Finnegan, 1989, p. 9). To this day, health communication scholars have struggled to create an identity and carve out a niche uniquely their own.
This specialization has developed rapidly in response to growing pragmatic and policy interests, particularly in the public health agencies of the federal government and among private sector health care providers. Pressing needs to address alarming problems such as smoking, substance abuse, poor nutritional habits, and AIDS have given a strong impetus (and expanded funding) to the systematic study of health communication processes and effects. The area's popularity and legitimacy are evinced by rising membership in health communication divisions in both the International