Selected Findings from the 1999 Healthstyles Survey

Regular viewers report that they learned something about a disease or how to prevent it from the following television entertainment shows in the past year:

• Prime-time television shows (41 percent)

• Television talk shows (38 percent)

More than one-third (34 percent) of regular viewers took one or more actions after hearing something about a health issue or disease on a soap opera in the past year:

• Told someone about it (25 percent)

• Told someone to do something to prevent the health problem (13 percent)

• Visited a clinic or a doctor (7 percent)

• Did something to prevent the problem (6 percent)

Regular viewers seek out and attend to health information more than nonviewers. They:

• Bring up something with their doctor that they read or hear is relevant to their health (63 percent versus 52 percent)

• Make a point to read and watch stories about health (46 percent versus 38 percent)

• Call a toll-free number or hotline for health information (19 percent versus 13 percent)

• Find out more about a health problem for someone else (57 percent versus 48 percent)

Box 7-2). Many people report that the information that they receive in the media has an important influence, often indirectly or directly affecting their behavior. Public health officials, however, are typically trained primarily in the sciences and not in using media channels to promote health or convey health information. This disconnect can give rise to confusion and less than optimal utilization of the media to promote public health goals. Consequently, the committee recommends that public health officials and local and national entertainment media work together to facilitate the communication of accurate information about disease and about medical and health issues in the entertainment media.

Recognizing the powerful impact of the entertainment media in conveying health information and messages, a number of health agencies and other groups are working to acknowledge the efforts of the Hollywood community. CDC, for example, established the Sentinel for Health Award for Daytime Drama (CDC, 2002b) to recognize exemplary achievements of daytime dramas that inform, educate, and motivate viewers to make choices for healthier and safer lives. CDC also funds the Hollywood, Health, and Society program at the University of Southern California Annenberg Norman Lear Center (University of Southern California, 2002). The program seeks to combine public health expertise with entertainment industry knowledge and outreach. Similarly, The Media Project, operated jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Advocates for Youth, has worked for years to promote accurate descriptions of reproductive health issues in television shows and also administers an awards program. The SHINE Awards (Sexual Health IN Entertainment) honor those in the entertainment industry who do an exemplary job of incorporating accurate and honest portrayals of sexuality into their television, film, and music video programming (The Media Project, 2002). The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health, sponsors the PRISM Awards ( These awards honor the correct depiction of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use in television and feature films, music, and comic books. The committee applauds efforts to recognize and highlight the contributions of the entertainment media in conveying accurate health information and messages as part of their programming activities.

Strong partnerships between the health community and the entertainment media are also important because they provide not only an opportunity to promote positive health messages but also an opportunity to educate the entertainment media about the impact of negative health messages on viewers, especially children. According to a 1998 Nielsen report on television viewing, the average child or adolescent watches an average of nearly 3 hours of television per day. Coupled with children's general vulnerability, this makes them especially susceptible to the messages conveyed through television.

A growing body of evidence associating the portrayal of violence in the entertainment media with increased aggression in young people, for example, has led a number of governmental and nongovernmental bodies to express concern regarding the amount of violence in the entertainment media. Those voicing concerns include the U.S. Surgeon General (1972), the National Institute of Mental Health (1982), the American Psychological Association (1993), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (2001). Concerns have also been expressed about the entertainment media's depictions of cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drug use, sexual behavior, and body concepts because of their potentially negative impacts on children (Roberts, 2000).

Given the important influence of the entertainment media on children and adults, the committee joins the voices of concern raised by other gov-

emmental and nongovernmental bodies and encourages entertainment television writers to refrain from glamorizing tobacco, alcohol, and drug use or violence and to incorporate appropriate contextual elements in such programming whenever possible.

The Internet

The Internet is rapidly and radically transforming many aspects of society, including reshaping how information is accessed and shared (NRC, 2000). In the health arena, interactive health communication, or the interaction of an individual—consumer, patient, caregiver, or professional— with an electronic device or communication technology to access or transmit health information or receive guidance and support on a health-related issue, is growing at a rapid pace (Robinson et al., 1998). Consumer health in particular is one area that is being reshaped by interactive health communication. Consumer health refers to a set of activities aimed at empowering consumers in their own health and health care. Activities in this area include the provision of health information, the development of tools for self-assessment of health risks and management of chronic diseases, and home-based monitoring of health status and delivery of care (NRC, 2000).

A recent study of interactive health communication applications conducted by the Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health, convened by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the Department of Health and Human Services, examined the current status of interactive health communication and its potential to promote health. In its consensus statement, the panel identified 12 potential advantages of using the Internet for health communication (Robinson et al., 1998). These potential advantages are listed in Box 7-3.

The panel also identified six specific functions of interactive health communication, which are listed in Box 7-4. These functions of interactive health communication have been noted by consumers as well as public- and private-sector organizations. According to a recent Harris Poll, an estimated 101 million U.S. web users have sought health care information online in the past year, up from 97 million in 2001 (Harris Poll, 2002). Web users also turn to the Internet to find social support (Bly, 1999). Foote and Etheredge (2002), in a study conducted to identify strategies to improve consumer health information services, found that insurers, provider organizations, consumer groups, foundations, and public-sector agencies are now sponsoring initiatives to strengthen these services. They note as an example that some insurers and provider organizations offer consumer-focused websites, preventive care and disease management outreach programs, and peer support programs for patients and caregivers. Some of the new peer support programs include meetings in person or online, introducing pa-

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