"Popular Media Helps Establish the Public Health Agenda" That's What I Said.

"Popular media helps establish the public health agenda". I just read this line in a new article from the March 2010 edition of Preventing Chronic Disease...I thought- that's what I've been talking about. I knew public health and pop culture went hand in hand!
This particular research project was inspired by the CDC/Alzheimer's Association Initiative: National Public Health Action Plan to Promote and Protect Brain Health. The authors conducted a content analysis of the four most circulated Women's magazines (Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Women's Day, Family Circle) and Men's magazines (Men's Health, GQ, Men's Journal, Esquire). They conducted a content analysis to see how the magazines described the three strategies correlated with healthy cognitive function (physical activity, healthy diet, and social involvement).
I will say that I was slightly disappointed that there was almost no discussion of the differences in how these issues are presented in Women's vs. Men's magazines. It is always interesting to see how public health issues are marketed differently based on gender. For example, I was fascinated in graduate school to see how cigarettes and smoking have been presented over the years. For example, Virginia Slims cigarettes were advertised in Women's Magazines with slogans like "You've come a long way baby". The products were visibly thin and the slogans focused on being free and empowered.
This content analysis was also interesting however, in that it identified what strategies were being talked about. They found that both types of magazines were focusing on prevention vs. treatment (yay!) Women's articles tended to be longer and were were likely to include contact information (for websites/researchers). It seems the magazines have done their research that women are more likely to seek help for a health issue. They also found that most articles focused on healthy diet, while increasing social involvement was almost never discussed. The authors do not speculate as to why social involvement was not presented. I find that interesting (and a shame) since social support/connection is also a protective factor for other health issues (e.g., suicide).
I think this type of research has great implications for other public health work. How often are pop media channels evaluated for the content/accuracy of their public health messages? How can the evaluation of those channels/messages inform the public health agenda? My message to MPH students: "Study that qualitative analysis textbook!" We're going to be needing researchers that can analyze the content of commercials, magazines, social networking sites...it sounds like a fun job!

If you'd like to check out the article I cited above:
Friedman et al. Cognitive Health Messages in Popular Women's and Men's Magazines, 2006-2007. Prev Chronic Dis. 2010: 7(2).


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