Monday, October 31, 2011

Pop culture and public health

On an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Dr. Izzie Stevens tells her HIV-positive patient that she doesn’t have to have an abortion because of her fear of transmitting the virus to her baby. With proper, regular medication, Izzie tells her, she has a 98 percent chance of having a healthy baby free of HIV. That’s 98 percent. The doctor repeats that fact three times in the brief conversation, and the patient herself says it once more to drive home the point.

That one-minute conversation took months of behind-the-scenes work to bring to life on the small screen. It was a collaboration between the show’s writers and producers and the Kaiser Family Foundation, who provided the health research on that storyline, says Tina Hoff, senior vice president at the foundation.

“We have a mutual goal, which is to bring the largest possible audience to the content,” said Hoff, a presenter during this morning's session on "Content Integration and Social Change: Sparking Action Through Programming Advertising and Popular Culture." “For a fully rounded public health strategy, we can’t ignore the entertainment industry.”

Hoff was on a panel with other health and entertainment leaders at today’s session, which was moderated by Peggy Conlan, president of the Ad Council. When health information and compelling storytelling come together, whether the medium is TV, film or the Internet, great things can happen — behavior change can occur, presenters said.

Liana Schwarz, senior vice president of social action at Participant Media, said filmmakers worked closely with researchers on the film “Contagion” to extend the experience of the film beyond the theater. Sure, it’s great to sympathize with characters, to laugh and cry with them, but what can you do when you get home?

“We like to add a little spinach to the popcorn,” Schwarz said.

The January DVD release of “Contagion,” for example, will have additional content with specific action messages, an informative — and entertaining — video on pandemics, and resources where the audience can find more information.

“We look to have an impact on the broader issue, from the personal level to the home level to the government level,” Schwarz said.

It is the company’s goal to entertain the audience, then facilitate the social action needed to make a difference, she noted.

With shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” MTV reaches a wide teen audience with their cautionary tales of teen pregnancy.

“We’re experts at reaching this audience,” said Jason Rzepka, vice president of public affairs at MTV. “But we’re not health experts, so we’ve partnered with Kaiser on some projects.”

The network’s GYT (Get Yourself Tested) campaign, for example, is a part of an ongoing partnership between the network and the Kaiser Family Foundation to empower and inform young people on how to reduce the spread of STDs.

Sandra de Castro Buffington, director of Hollywood, Health and Society in Los Angeles, works to bridge the gap between the entertainment industry and the public health community. The organization works closely with writers and producers to consult, advise and provide accurate health messages.

“When it’s done right, we can improve the health and well-being of the audience,” she told session attendees.

Last year, Hollywood, Health and Society consulted on 163 storylines that aired on national TV and 38 different shows on 16 networks. The group is leading “story bus tours” for writers and producers, such as taking them on tours of Los Angeles to show them first-hand what food deserts look like and what a community garden can do for an impoverished neighborhood.

“Ideally, we’d like to see a situation of art imitating life,” Buffington said.

— L.R.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post! I agree completely that it is important to work with entertainment media to enhance accuracy and helpfulness in how TV channels, shows, and movies address health issues. I'd also add news media to the list, as I talked about in a blog post recently:

Anonymous said...

This sounded like a great discussion. Sorry i missed it! There's so much going on at this annual meeting, and so little time.

Abel said...

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