Evaluating 90210 & Public Health Interventions: My Perfect Fantasy Job

Cases in Public Health Communication & Marketing is an online, open-access journal (coming out of the George Washington (GW) University School of Public Health and Health Services) which focuses exclusively on case studies from the fields of public health communication and social marketing. The journal's mission is to promote the analysis of real-world experiences and practice-oriented learning. They have recently published Volume 4 (Summer 2010) which includes several case studies focused on Entertainment Education and the work of Hollywood, Health, & Society.

Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), is a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, and provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for health story lines. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The California Endowment, and the Health Resources and Services Administration's Division of Transplantation and Poison Control Program, the program recognizes the profound impact that entertainment media have on individual knowledge and behavior. These professionals (who totally have my perfect job!) focus on Entertainment Education (EE), which is a communication strategy that involves embedding health or social messages into entertainment programming that can influence knowledge and attitudes, and promote healthy behavior among television drama audiences. The two cases highlighted for the GW publication included a The Bold and the Beautiful (daytime soap opera) storyline which promoted bone marrow donation and a (new) 90210 (nighttime young adult soap opera) storyline which highlighted a main character with bipolar disorder.

What is really fantastic about the case descriptions (beyond the collaboration and prep work that went into creating these accurate and engaging story lines) was their discussion of how to evaluate their efforts. Evaluation is (unfortunately) sometimes an afterthought for public health interventions. Or evaluation is poorly defined as simply measuring satisfaction- "Did the viewers "like" the episode?" Despite the complexity of evaluating health communication efforts, these case studies were quite thorough. For example, with the 90210 episode, they looked not only at exposure (i.e., how many watched the episode or saw the accompanying PSA on bipolar disorder) but also at help-seeking behavior following the episode. They documented calls/contacts to their partners (e.g., SAMHSA Health Information Network and the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF). The evaluators also collected qualitative feedback from volunteers and teens who visited the CABF online chat rooms after the episode aired. "As expected, visits to the chat rooms increased shortly after the episode aired. Remarkably, traffic and participation in the chat rooms continued for months after the episode and PSAs aired".

It is always validating to see that watching TV can be more than a mind numbing couch potato activity...it can be educational and essential for shaping and measuring social norms around important health issues.


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