2000 Porter Novelli Healthstyles Survey

Prime Time Viewers and Health Information

APHA Executive Summary, October 24, 2001

Introduction

Analysis of the 2000 Porter Novelli HealthStyles database was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The dataset consists of responses from 28 items that describe the characteristics of prime time TV viewers, and the effects of health content from TV storylines on their learning about health and actions taken. This summary also includes comparisons between regular viewers of daytime and prime time TV shows.

The Porter Novelli HealthStyles survey is one of a pair of linked postal mail surveys sent to a sample of adults ages 18 and older, which is drawn to be nationally representative on seven U.S. Census Bureau demographic characteristics. The first survey is a consumer survey in which data on general media habits, product use, interests, and lifestyle are collected. The second survey, HealthStyles, is administered to respondents to the first survey in which data on health attitudes, behaviors, conditions, in which information seeking are collected. HealthStyles is a proprietary database product developed by Porter Novelli, a social marketing and public relations firm. The survey was conducted in October and November of 2000 with 2,353 respondents.

Key Findings

More than four out of five (84%) Americans watch prime time TV shows at least a few times a month and half (50%) are regular viewers, i.e. viewers who watch two or more times a week. Among regular viewers who are nearly evenly represented across gender, age, income, education and racial groups:

  • More than half (52%) report they trust the health information in the shows to be accurate and about one-fourth (26%) say prime time entertainment TV shows are among their top three sources for health information
  • Nearly half (47%) report learning from prime time TV shows, about the same rate as those who report learning from daytime TV shows (48%)
  • Nearly half (48%) of viewers report taking action after hearing about a health topic in a TV show (34% for daytime viewers)

Among Black women who are regular viewers:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) report the highest rates of all groups for learning about health from prime time shows (69% for daytime)
  • More than half (57%) report telling someone about it, one-fifth (21%) report visiting health care places, and 14% report calling for health information after hearing about a health topic in a prime time TV show.
  • About one-third (34%) report telling someone to do something or did something themselves to prevent a problem after hearing about it on a daytime TV show.

Implications

The Healthstyles findings suggest prime time TV storylines serve a critical health education service when they provide accurate, timely information about disease, injury and disability in their storylines for the vast majority of U.S. citizens who watch at least a few times a month, and particularly for the 102 million people who are regular viewers i.e. viewers who watch two or more times a week. Since audience reach is broad and effects are very strong among women of color who have a disproportionate burden of risk for preventable diseases – such as STDs, heart disease and certain birth defects – the shows provide a critical channel for easily understood prevention information for these audiences. When even a small percentage of viewers take action as the result of a TV storyline, to protect or improve their own health or the health of someone they know, millions of people and their families can benefit. If a show fails to convey accurate information, or portrays risky behavior without the associated health consequences, viewers may suffer negative effects as well.

The weekly format of prime time entertainment TV shows allows audiences to develop familiarity with regular characters, and identification with characters they perceive to be like themselves. Behavioral scientists have demonstrated that this type of identification enhances learning and prevention – because audience members are inclined to model desirable behavior and avoid undesirable behavior, based on the experiences of characters they have come to know.

Writers and producers of TV storylines that address public health and safety issues may want to consider:

  • Topics that impact a lot of people (e.g. teens/smoking, women/heart disease, or children/vaccines)
  • Prevention information delivered or modeled by credible characters (e.g. checking the smoke alarm, using a seat belt, taking a daily vitamin, getting a flu vaccine, or exercising)
  • Continuing storylines that explore the impact of disease, injury and disability on people’s lives
  • Characters with negative beliefs and poor health practices suffering the consequences
  • Challenges and struggles these characters face in making changes, and the positive outcomes that result when they choose more positive beliefs and practices
  • Storylines with characters who have health limitations or impairment, but practice healthy behaviors that contribute to their quality of life

Summary of Findings

(Sample Size: 2,353 Respondents)

Frequency of Daytime Drama Viewing By Audiences

More than four out of five (84%) of all respondents report they watch prime time entertainment TV shows (like ER, The Practice, Touched By An Angel, Everybody Loves Raymond) at least a few times a month:

  • Half of all respondents (50%) are regular viewers, i.e. viewers who watch two or more times a week
  • Nearly half of regular viewers (24% of all respondents) watch four or more times a week

Regular prime time viewing is reported by:

  • 52% of females and 48% of males
  • 52% of whites, 48% of Blacks, and 34% of Hispanics
  • 51% of those ages 18-29, 52% of ages 30-64, and 40% of ages 65 and above
  • 48% of those with HS or less education, and 51% with some college or more
  • 52% of those with income under $20K, 49% between $20K-$50K, and 50% with $50K and above

Prime Time Entertainment TV Shows as a Source for Learning about Health

Regular viewers report the places they heard about health information they trusted to be accurate in the past year are shown in Table 1 below:

Top three choices of regular viewers for learning about diseases andhow to prevent them
Table 1. Top three choices of regular viewers for learning about diseases and how to prevent them
All White Black Hispanic
TV news/news magazine shows 77% 77% 77% 83%
Newspaper 72% 73% 72% 68%
Health care provider 69% 68% 75% 68%
Friends/family 62% 63% 58% 69%
Prime time entertainment TV shows 52% 51% 62% 52%
Radio 32% 30% 50% 29%
Internet 30% 30% 31% 21%
Hotlines 3% 2% 11% 4%

The places noted most often (top three choices) by regular viewers for learning about diseases and how to prevent them in the past year are shown in Table 2 below:

Top three choices of regular viewers for learning about diseases andhow to prevent them
Table 2. Top three choices of regular viewers for learning about diseases and how to prevent them
All White Black Hispanic
TV news/news magazine shows 63% 63% 68% 65%
Newspaper 53% 53% 60% 40%
Health care provider 52% 52% 51% 45%
Friends/family 40% 41% 35% 35%
Prime time entertainment TV shows 26% 23% 42% 27%
Radio 14% 13% 21% 12%
Internet 18% 18% 12% 19%
Hotlines 1% 1% 1% 0%

Nine out of ten (90%) regular viewers report they learned something about diseases or how to prevent them (like AIDS, cancer, diabetes, asthma, etc.) from one or more of the following TV programs in the past year:

  • News/news magazine shows (79%)
  • Documentary specials (47%)
  • Medical/health shows (39%)
  • Prime time entertainment TV shows (47%)
  • Talk shows (35%)
  • Soap operas (11%)

Nine out of ten (91%) women who are regular viewers report they learned something about diseases or how to prevent them from the TV shows listed above. Over half (51%) report they learned something about diseases from prime time entertainment TV shows:

  • 49% of white women
  • 63% of Black women
  • 46% of Hispanic women

Impact of Health Topics in Prime time Entertainment TV Shows: Actions Taken

More than nine out of ten (92%) regular viewers heard something about a health issue or disease on prime time TV shows in the past year and nearly half (48%) took one or more actions as a result:

  • 16% told someone to do something or did something themselves (like use a condom or exercise more) to prevent the health problem
  • 42% told someone about the story or health topic
  • 9% visited a clinic or doctor
  • 5% called a clinic, health care place or hotline number for information

About the same proportion of women who are regular viewers (93%) heard something about a health issue or disease on prime time TV shows in the past year and more than half (54%) took one or more actions as a result:

Actions taken by regular viewers of prime time TV shows
Table 3. Actions taken by regular viewers of prime time TV shows
All White Black Hispanic
Told someone about the story or health topic 48% 48% 57% 46%
Told someone to do something or did something myself 17% 15% 21% 28%
Visited a clinic, doctor, or nurse 10% 8% 21% 11%
Called a clinic, health care place, or hotline number 6% 5% 14% 9%

Comparing Prime Time and Daytime Audiences

Note: Daytime findings are based on data from the 1999 HealthStyles Survey. Percentages are reported for prime time vs. daytime regular viewers unless noted otherwise

Prime time audiences are two-and-a-half times larger than daytime audiences:

  • 84% vs. 33% of all respondents watch at least a few times a month
  • 50% vs. 19% of all respondents watch two or more times a week (regular viewers)
  • 24% vs. 12% of all respondents watch four or more times a week

With only a couple of exceptions, regular viewers of prime time are evenly represented across gender, racial, age, education and income groups while regular viewers of daytime have more representation among women, younger/older viewers, lower income/education groups, Blacks and Hispanics:

Frequency of Prime time and Daytime Drama Viewing by Audiences
Table 4. Frequency of Prime time and Daytime Drama Viewing by Audiences
Prime time Viewers Daytime Viewers
Race/Ethnicity
Black 48% 31%
Hispanic 34% 25%
White 52% 17%
Gender
Males 48% 12%
Females 52% 25%
Age
18-29 51% 25%
30-64 52% 16%
65 and above 40% 20%
Income
Under $20K 52% 29%
$20K to $50K 49% 20%
$50K and above 50% 12%
Education
High school or less 48% 26%
Some college or above 51% 15%

Learning about diseases from a health storyline is reported by a larger percentage of regular prime time viewers than regular daytime viewers (47% vs. 41%); Black women report learning about health at the highest rates of both prime time and daytime groups:

  • 51% vs. 53% of women who are regular viewers report learning
  • 49% vs. 48% of white women report learning
  • 63% vs. 69% of Black women report learning
  • 46% vs. 56% of Hispanic women report learning

Taking action from a health storyline is reported by a larger percentage of regular prime time viewers than daytime viewers (48% vs. 34%), with discussion being the strongest effect:

  • 42% vs. 25% of regular viewers told someone about the story or health topic
  • 9% vs. 7% visited a clinic or doctor
  • 16% vs. 16% of regular viewers told someone to do something or did something themselves to prevent the problem.
  • 5% vs. 6% called a clinic, health care place or hotline number for more information

Women report taking action at even higher rates after viewing prime time and daytime health storylines (54% vs. 39%); Black women have the highest rates of reporting for these specific actions:

Actions taken by women who are regular viewers of prime time and daytime TV dramas
Table 5. Actions taken by women who are regular viewers of prime time and daytime TV dramas
Prime Time Daytime
All White Black Hispanic All White Black Hispanic
Told someone about the story or health topic 48% 48% 57% 46% 29% 26% 38% 31%
Told someone to do something or did something myself 17% 15% 21% 28% 15% 10% 29% 24%
Visited a clinic, doctor, or nurse 10% 8% 21% 11% 7% 4% 16% 13%
Called a clinic, health care place, or hotline number/did something to prevent the problem 6% 5% 14% 9% 6% 4% 17% 2%
References
  • Beck, V. and Pollard, W.E. (2001). How do regular viewers of prime time TV dramas respond to health information in the shows? Paper presented at the American Public Health Association 129th Annual Meeting and Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

Page last reviewed: February 2, 2011