Download the Report: Weight Stigma and Media: Assessing the Impact

Painting of "Together" by Ali Goldstein

Fighting Health Stigma

The Media Empathy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are creating a unified voice to foster a culture of empathy and support for people struggling to overcome health stigma.

Health stigma is the labeling, bias, stereotyping, discrimination, and/or prejudice against people who have certain health conditions.

Its consequences can be profound.

Consequences of disease stigma: Anxiety, Screening Avoidance, Late Diagnosis, Stress, Discrimination, Isolation, Delayed Treatment, Lower Quality Care, Lack of Support, Depression, Worse Health Outcomes, Lower Survival Rates

Our Mission

Our mission is to reduce health stigma by promoting empathy, compassion and inclusivity in all forms of media.

Media has the power to shape public perceptions, bridge divides, and inspire change by challenging common stereotypes and biases associated with stigmatized health conditions.

Our Approach

We bring together leaders in academia and media to develop and source impactful content and initiatives that inspire empathy for the patient journey, address the widespread problem of health stigma, and empower people to advocate for their well-being.

Our Featured Partnerships

The Media Empathy Foundation has partnered with the “It’s Bigger Than Me” Movement with the goal of changing the narrative that surrounds obesity – from one that fuels stigma, shame, and blame, to one that fosters open dialogue, empathy, and mutual respect. To find out more, visit where you can watch a series of short films starring Queen Latifah. Follow @ItsBiggerThan and find out how you can join the #ItsBiggerThan movement and flip the script on obesity and body image.

The Media Empathy Foundation partnered with global health innovation company Real Chemistry at SXSW 2021 to raise awareness of health stigma. Watch the panel discussion here:

Contact Us

If you have experienced health stigma, please share your story with us. If you  would like to get involved, fill out the form below or e-mail us:

Helene Ellison
President & Founder

Helene Ellison is a 35-year veteran of the healthcare communications industry with expertise in corporate and product positioning, media relations, advocacy and issues management.  Before founding the Media Empathy Foundation, she served as Global Chair of the Healthcare Practice at Burson-Marsteller and previously as founder, president and CEO of HealthStar Public Relations through transaction.  She has also led healthcare divisions at Edelman and Omnicom Networks.  Helene has served on boards or worked pro bono for a number of not-for-profit organizations throughout her career including the American Liver Foundation, The Obesity Society, Convergence and The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins.

Susan Magsamen
Susan Magsamen
Chief Knowledge Officer

Susan Magsamen is the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab), a pioneering neuroaesthetics initiative from the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her body of work lies at the intersection of brain sciences and the arts—and how our unique response to aesthetic experiences can amplify human potential. Susan is the author of the Impact Thinking model, an evidence-based research approach to accelerate how we use the arts to solve problems in health, well-being, and learning. In addition to her role at IAM Lab, she is an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and serves as co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint project in partnership with the Aspen Institute. Prior to founding IAM Lab, Susan worked in both the public and private sector, developing social impact programs and products including Curiosityville, an online personalized learning world, acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014 and Curiosity Kits, a hands-on multi-sensory company, acquired by Torstar in 1995.

Barbara Ricci
Barbara Ricci

Barbara Ricci is executive director of Mindful Philanthropy and senior advisor on behavioral health for the Center for High Impact Philanthropy in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.   She brings deep experience working with nonprofit organizations and also draws upon her 30+ year career with global financial services firms. Barbara is currently Board Treasurer for the Arthur Miller Foundation and has authored or co-authored articles in journals such as the Harvard Business Review and Psychiatric Services.   She earned Executive MPA at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

David Sloan
David Sloan

David Sloan is senior executive producer and creative lead of ABC News Studios, encompassing programming for Hulu and the ABC network. Throughout his tenure at ABC News, David has received 11 Emmys, 4 Peabodys and a duPont Award from Columbia University.

Previously, David worked as senior executive producer, Network Primetime Content, managing all of ABC News’ primetime programming including news specials, the Diane Sawyer specials, Truth and Lies and 20/20. Under his leadership, 20/20 has remained one of the most respected news magazine programs on the air and recently ranked as Friday’s #1 news magazine across the board for the 2021-2022 broadcast season.  During this time, David also successfully launched many innovative network and Hulu series such as Wild CrimeKeeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout MurdersThe Con and The Fatal Flaw: A Special Edition of 20/20.

David began his ABC News career as a researcher for Good Morning America in 1979. He quickly moved up the ranks, serving eventually as its senior producer and overseeing international projects for the show. He joined 20/20 in 1990 as a producer working on a wide variety of stories with all of the correspondents. Then in 2006 he was named Executive Producer of ABC News’ second news magazine, Primetime, and he re-branded that program before its merger with 20/20.

Immediately prior to joining ABC News, David was a general assignment reporter at the Star-Ledger, while also teaching English and writing at his alma mater, Rutgers University.

David and his husband Steve reside in New York City.

Orlando Reece
Orlando Reece

Orlando Reece is Global Head of Sales at Insider, responsible for spearheading the business and culture publisher into new domestic and international advertising categories, including retail, CPG, pharma, and entertainment. With over twenty-five years of experience in extensive cross-platform media, his appointment at Insider will replicate the disruptive business model he created at TelevisaUnivision where he served most recently as VP/Category Development Officer. Earlier in his career, Orlando was CEO of Pride Media, the world’s largest media company dedicated to serving the LGBTQ+ community, where he expanded the reach and focus of iconic news magazines like The Advocate and Out beyond print and into digital, social and community events. Orlando’s long list of credits include serving as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Swoup. He was VP of Sales and Marketing at the Game Show Network; VP Head for Broadcast and Digital Video for Everyday Health; SVP of Television/Radio for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Executive Director of Entertainment at Yahoo! and held various positions at The Walt Disney Company earlier in his career.

Jeff Mahshie

Jeff Mahshie is Creative Director at Donna Karan and a Tony-Nominated Costume Designer.  He has designed costumes for numerous Broadway productions such as, She Loves Me , Next to Normal, and Kiss Me Kate.  Earlier in his career Jeff was creative director for Chaiken, Lord and Taylor and Halston. His designs can also be seen on the Red carpet for actors such as Cynthia Nixon, Stockard Channing and Mary Louise Parker, among others.

David Barrett
David Barrett
David Barrett is Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Flame Biosciences, a clinical stage company focused on the research, development and commercialization of transformative therapies for cancer and other inflammatory conditions.  His previous appointments include Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Assembly Biosciences, and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance of Overture Asset Managers and Overture Financial Services.  David has also served as Manager at Deloitte & Touche and Director of Fortress Biotech, Inc.  David is a Certified Public Accountant.
Russell Ellison
Russell Ellison, MD, MSc
Chief Scientific Officer

Dr. Russell Ellison, MD, Msc has held leadership positions in biotech and large pharmaceutical companies for more than four decades.  His experience includes clinical development, drug safety and risk management, regulatory interactions and public health policy  in major markets and developing countries.   His medical expertise encompasses  primary and specialty care therapeutic areas and public health. He is currently president and CEO of Rockwell Medical.  His previous appointments as President and CEO include Promedior, Assembly Biosciences and Bond Biosciences.  Russell was Chief Medical Officer at Roche and Sanofi earlier in his career.

Max Monahan-Ellison
Max Monahan-Ellison
Max Monahan-Ellison is a strategist specializing in health and heavily regulated sectors, with a focus on stigmatized disease states and treatment categories. Max runs a boutique strategy and communications consulting firm, Ellison Strategies, chairs the board of a patient advocacy group, serves as an advisor for a start-up incubator specializing in social impact driven organizations, and serves on the Best Medicine Coalition’s Rare Disease Task Force. He has consulted federal and regional governments, pharmaceutical companies, civil society coalitions, and a variety of brands on corporate affairs, strategic communications, marketing, public affairs, policy and grassroots community mobilization.
Dan Berndt
Dan Berndt
Chief Technology Officer

Dan Berndt is a 38-year veteran in Technology, 20 of those at Morgan Stanley, Executive Director of the Enterprise Data Organization’s global Data Infrastructure Group successful in architecting, building and deploying highly stable secure data infrastructure supporting trading and core business systems. Besides technical expertise, Dan excels at large multi-year technology initiatives in strategy, planning, budgeting and project management. Previous roles included real-time trading systems development for convertible bonds and international trading at Morgan Stanley, preceded by 5+ years at IBM in application and database development as well as product sales and marketing. Dan now focuses on consulting and freelance projects addressing small business, nonprofit and home technology needs.

Kirsten Ellison
Kirsten Ellison, PhD
Research Director

Kirsten Ellison, PhD is a critical communications scholar with a background in social theories of the body, visual culture, digital media studies, health communication, science storytelling, and critical age studies. She holds a PhD and MA in Communication & Culture and brings with her a decade of combined experience in academic research, writing, teaching, and knowledge mobilization. Her independent scholarship examines the intersections of science, medicine and technology in representations of the body in popular culture and is showcased on her academic blog, Body Stories. Her independent and collaborative work has been published in peer-reviewed edited books and journals, including the Journal of Aging Studies, the British Food Journal, Sociology Compass, Frontiers in Public Health, and the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Steve Gold

Steve Gold is founder and President of The SGNY Group Inc. established in 2007 to serve companies and nonprofits with content production and distribution. Prior to that he was the CEO and President of both Steve Gold Inc., an advertising and marketing agency with commercial and long form production capabilities and TVN Communications Group Inc., a business- to-business broadcast services agency which provided broadcast PR tactics to companies and their agencies. As a commercial film director, Steve has been the recipient of both Emmy and Clio Awards along with a long list of festival entries for the PBS documentaries that he has written, produced and directed.

Bruce Littlefield
Bruce Littlefield
Creative Director
Bruce Littlefield is a best-selling author, lifestyle expert, and arbiter of American culture.  Hailed as a “lifestyle authority” by the New York Times and as a “modern day Erma Bombeck” by NPR, he appears on NBC’s Today show, CBS’s Early Show and ABC’s The View and Good Morning America, as well as MSNBC, Rachael Ray, The Soup, and The Better Show. Bruce’s author and co-author credits include New York Times bestsellers with well-known personalities: Use What You’ve Got (with Shark Tank mogul Barbara Corcoran), My Two Moms (with civil rights advocate Zach Wahls), and The Sell (with Bravo star Fredrik Eklund.)  Bruce has been awarded the Audie Award for best business book, a Christopher Award for humanitarian journalism, and The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences named his master’s thesis “Best News/Public Affairs Program.”

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