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CDC 24/7 – Saving Lives. Protecting People. Saving Money Through Prevention. Learn More About How CDC Works For You…

Delivering Public Health Messages through Popular Entertainment

CDC speaks directly to audiences through television

Published: July 5, 2007

Graphic: Two people watching television

Millions of Americans have been able to dispel myths and stigma around cancer, obesity, HIV and many other public health concerns through the power of entertainment. Popular shows like ER, Grey's Anatomy and Girlfriends have helped CDC educate and inform the public while also reaching at-risk audiences with prevention messages.

In 2000, the HealthStyles (Porter Novelli) survey found more than four out of five (88%) Americans watch prime time television shows at least a few times a month. About half of these viewers are considered regular viewers, which are viewers who watch two or more times a week.

More than half of these regular viewers report they trust the health information in the shows to be accurate; about one-fourth (26%) say prime time entertainment TV shows are among their top three sources for health information; and nearly half (47%) report learning from prime time television shows, about the same rate as those who report learning from daytime TV shows (48%).

Recognizing the power of popular entertainment in shaping the perceptions and practices of its viewers, CDC awarded a cooperative agreement to the Norman Lear Center at University of Southern California through a competitive process.

The CDC Entertainment Education Program works in partnership with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center to provide expert consultation, education and resources for writers and producers who develop scripts with health storylines and information.

The Entertainment Education Program also serves as a resource and facilitates providing accurate, timely health information on a wide variety of important public health issues.

From January 2001 to September 2006, more than 700 inquiries from television writers have been received; more than 400 episodes contained public health information, including more than 82 major storylines; 11 shows ran some combination of informational PSAs, info spots, and toll free numbers; 28 storylines evaluated for effect on viewing audiences; 109 shows were evaluated for health content; and more than 200 links to public health information were provided to show Web sites for their viewers.

Undeniably, television reaches huge audiences across the country. Traditionally, video public service announcements (PSAs) have been provided to television stations for air. Unfortunately, these stations are under no obligation to run PSAs during prime time viewing hours and often PSAs are assigned late night time slots. This program serves as an effective alternative to purchasing advertising time to run PSAs, and helps guarantee a prime time audience.

An episode of Grey's Anatomy has an average audience of 18.5 million viewers. A recent episode covered the topic of health disparities for three minutes. The advertising rate during this show is more than $352,000 per 30 seconds. The estimated cost to the Entertainment Education program per episode is $5,645 - $6,228.

The effectiveness of the Entertainment Education program is not only measured in monetary value. Hollywood, Health, and Society has been able to organize and oversee evaluations examining how audiences have been affected by viewing public health information on selected television shows helped by their close proximity to the University of Southern California.

A May 2004 episode of ER with 24.8 million viewers covered youth heart disease, obesity and 5 A Day. Viewers reported more healthy behaviors after seeing the storyline. Viewers also had more knowledge of the 5 A Day program compared to non-viewers.

An April 2005 episode of ER with 16.1 million viewers covered the impact evaluation of cancer myths, patient navigators and breast cancer screening behaviors. Viewers were more likely to believe that cutting into cancer during surgery does NOT cause it to spread and become more fatal. They were also more like to get screened, or recommend screening, for breast cancer.

In March 2003, Girlfriends aired a show discussing HIV stigma that reached 3.63 viewers. These viewers were less likely to agree with the belief that people who contracted AIDS through sex or drug use had gotten what they deserve. They also had a lower level of HIV stigma within the year after episode aired, and higher intention to be tested for HIV, compared to before the episode aired.

Popular entertainment provides an ideal outlet for sharing health information and affecting behavior. CDC and the Entertainment Education Program are interested in providing information that covers a variety of topics. Knowing that 88 percent of people in America learn about health issues from television, CDC believes that prime time and daytime television programs, movies, talk shows and more, are great outlets for our health messages.

Page last updated: July 5, 2007
Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Safer, Healthier People
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