In May, 2000, the Office of Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention convened an Expert Panel of fourteen mass communication scholars to:
- assess the existing research and theory on Entertainment-Education (EE)
- identify research gaps, and
- propose a meaningful and practical research agenda, wherein health issues are the central content areas and positive health effects are the goals.
In both presentations and ensuing discussion, the Expert Panelists expressed considerable enthusiasm and optimism for EE’s promise as a vehicle for health promotion. There was consensus that EE can be an important and potentially vital component of a successful public health strategy, especially given the current political interest in and advocacy for responsible entertainment programming targeted to children and teens. Nevertheless, the Panelists also identified a number of important gaps in research that must be addressed for current EE initiatives to be validly evaluated and for future EE initiatives to be based on scientifically sound principles.
In terms of general recommendations, the Panelists noted that:
- There is an urgent need for funding to sponsor new research on effects of entertainment programming in light of recent revolutionary changes in information and entertainment technologies, options and delivery systems;
- There is an equally compelling need for funding research on the potential efficacy of EE strategies for influencing youths aged eight and above, an important group in terms of public health goals that is often difficult to reach;
- There is a need as well to encourage the development of new theory and evaluation methodologies to guide and develop EE interventions.
- In addition, there is a need to sponsor research to enhance understanding of contextual dynamics of EE effects, such as structured interpersonal communication accompanying EE messages, integration of EE messages with other communications vehicles such as the internet, repetition of EE messages, and the potential for “mixed messages” portrayed in entertainment programs.
In addition to these general recommendations, the Expert Panelists identified 63 specific research questions that need to be addressed. Following the conference, the Panelists prioritized these 63 research questions, organized in terms of five major research topics.
Judged to be of highest priority is research on the topics of “EE outcomes and effects,” followed by research on “EE content and messages” and “EE audiences.” Research on “The Entertainment Industry Itself” and “Evaluation of CDC-Specific EE Activities” was judged to be important, but of lower priority.
Within the three highest-priority research topics, funding is needed to sponsor research to answer such questions as:
- How can EE messages influence knowledge, attitudes and health-related practices?
- What levels and types of exposure to EE content are necessary for adoption of pro-health practices?
- How (in what ways) are health issues/concerns portrayed in entertainment programming?
- What specific theories are most applicable to developing EE messages?
- What health issues/concerns are being depicted over time, and with what frequency?
- What are different ways in which characters can be shown to cope with health problems, and which are the most effective in terms of modeling?
- What types of television characters are considered credible sources of health information?
- How can youth be targeted through EE messages?
- What media do children and youths use for entertainment, and what opportunities for synergy exist (between, for example, internet and television)?