Tuesday, August 30, 2011

CDC's Health Out Loud ... Entertainment and public health belong together

Here at the School of Rural Public Health, we are often encouraged to think about innovative ways of including public health messages in general media. Specifically at our school, because of our proximity to the Mexican border, we often discuss telenovelas, popular soap operas that have previously been used to disseminate information to disadvantaged Hispanic populations. These are very well-received and prompt a significant change (in some cases), when paired with other public health efforts.

I be you didn't know that the exact same thing happens on American television! Check out the CDC's blog today about a new episode of "Army Wives" that addresses the topic of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Link here.

Here's also a link to the actual video clip in which TBI is discussed.

Although this approach is nothing new (I've read documents dating back to the 70's that address public health in the media), it's interesting to see how issues have changed, and how they may have remained the same.

One of the biggest issues we face as public health practitioners is the continued portrayal of illness as:
  • Quickly cured
  • Affecting only white, middle-class patients
  • Exotic and difficult to define (i.e., not diabetes ... instead, amnesia!)
This, frankly, is not what illness is in this nation. We are a group of people with chronic conditions that are fairly common. We have high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease ... none of which are particularly glamorous. Trauma makes for better TV, but it doesn't help Americans understand the health care system.

I have to admit that I am particularly fond of the TLC show that shows true stories from the ER; although some of the ailments are sensationalized, we get a feeling for what might actually happen in an Emergency Department, rather than what Hollywood would have us believe. Teens actually do come in after overdosing on drugs, for example, and car crashes are among the leading causes of preventable deaths for Americans in general. The TLC show portrays these events accurately, in my opinion.

In essence, I hope that we see more information dispersal like this clip from Army Wives. Although it wasn't on a major network, I think it portrayed a fairly realistic situation. We have an obligation, as public health professionals, to promote these surreptitious but effective mechanisms for social change.

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