Media Literacy Has Potential to Improve Adolescents’ Health

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    105doismoking portrayals outnumber antismoking portrayals by aio of ten to one [4]. Almost all of the top-rated movies forldren, teens, and adults contain some portrayal of smokingt usually conveys physical attractiveness and high socialtus [5,6]. Recent research has shown that teens who see

    literacy makes a difference in adolescents health-relateddecisions, establishing media literacy as an important com-ponent of a young persons education will not be easy. Weneed more research not only showing, as this study does,that media literacy is related to health outcomes, but also toEdit

    Media Literacy Has Potential tMedia literacy is a relatively new approach to helpingung people make good decisions about their health. Myorite simple definition of media literacy is that wereching adolescents how to read Baywatch as well aseowulf. Basically, its the idea that the popular medialevision, movies, music, teen magazines, the Internet) inich adolescents are immersed are probably as importantthe classics in teaching cultural norms and expectations.cades of research has shown that the media do affectolescents aggressive and sexual behavior, body satisfac-n and eating disorders, as well as alcohol use and ciga-te smoking [1]. I and other media-effects researchersve found that the media can serve as a kind of super peer

    young people, glamorizing and normalizing often un-althy behavior [2].When applied to health, media literacy means helpingung people see that the media are in the business ofling them products and behaviors that often are not goodthem. By increasing awareness of how media are pro-

    ced and packaged, the assumption is that adolescents willcome more critical of what they see and hear and will bes likely to engage in the unhealthy behavior promoted inmedia.

    We might think a more effective strategy would be tonge the media rather than the medias consumers. But

    ecting media content is an especially difficult propositionth such a commercially driven and government-independentdia industry. Health advocates have had only limited suc-s in getting the media to provide healthier content or touce unhealthy fare. The elimination of cigarette advertisingm radio and television in the 1970s was a remarkableievement, but that important step has been undermined asacco has reemerged in other kinds of media. Currently,ut one in five of the episodes of popular, noneducational

    Journal of Adolescent Hre movies that depict smoking are more likely to beginoking [7,8].


    4-139X/06/$ see front matter 2006 Society for Adolescent Medicine. All ri:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.07.014prove Adolescents HealthWe certainly shouldnt give up trying to persuade thedia to provide healthier content for young audiences.ven the barriers to significant changes in content, how-er, it seems prudent to look for other ways to reduce thetentially harmful effects of the media on adolescentsalth. Media literacy is a potentially fruitful strategy.Although media literacy education has been practiced iner countriessuch as Canada, Great Britain, and Aus-liafor three decades or more, it is just now gaining athold in the United States. The movement has spawned

    o national organizations that advance media educationining, networking, and information exchange throughfessional conferences and media list-serves: Alliance foredia Literate America (AMLA) and Action Coalition fordia Education (ACME).The media literacy movement in the United States has

    en hampered, however, by a lack of rigorous evaluationsthe various media literacy interventions underway [9].ly a few previous studies have established that mediaracy training increases critical thinking about the media

    d/or affects attitudes about a health issue (e.g., alcohold tobacco use, body image, and violence) [1013].The study reported in this issue of the Journal of Adolescentalth uses an elegant measure that reliably assesses the threedia domains that most practitioners and researchers agreefundamental in media literacy education: (1) authors andiences, (2) messages and meanings, and (3) reality andresentation [14]. The evidence presented by Primack andcolleagues shows that increases of only one point on theoking Media Literacy Scale were significantly related touced current smoking and reduced susceptibility to futureoking. This is quite remarkable. It suggests that knowingn a bit about the medias intentions and effects could

    prove adolescents health.

    (2006) 459460velop effective curricula that can be easily adopted inltiple venues. It is not clear at this point how much media

    ghts reserved.

  • education is necessary, when it should start, how long itshould last, or what components are most important. Mostexisting media education curricula require multiple meet-ings and focus on only one medium (usually televisionand/or advertising) or only one health issue at a time.

    One recent study, however, has shown that even one medialiteracy training session can increase early adolescents skep-ticism toward advertising, and that taking a more emotionalrather than only fact-based approach may be most effectivewith middle-schoolers [15]. This is good news, certainly, forschool systems that have been reluctant to install full-blownme














    [1] Brown JD, Cantor JR (guest editors). The mass media and adoles-cents health. J Adolesc Health 2000;(27)2(Suppl).

    [2] Brown JD, Halpern C, LEngle K. Mass media as a sexual super peerfor early maturing girls. J Adolesc Health 2005;(36)5:4207.

    [3] Roberts DF, Christenson PG. Heres Looking at You, Kid: Alcohol,Drugs and Tobacco in Entertainment Media. Washington, DC: KaiserFamily Foundation, 2000.

    [4] Dozier DM, Lauzen MM, Day CA, et al. Leaders and elites: portray-als of smoking in popular films. Tob Control 2005;14(1):79.

    [5] Dalton MA, Tickle JJ, Sargent JD, et al. The incidence and context of














    460 J.D. Brown / Journal of Adolescent Health 39 (2006) 459460dia literacy components in their already over-burdened cur-ula. All 50 states now have at least one element of mediaracy as part of their curricular requirements. Most incorpo-e media literacy in major subject areas such as English orial studies and some in health [16], but adoption has beenradic and inconsistent at best [17].In 1997 the American Academy of Pediatrics launched a

    tional Media Matters media education campaign de-ned to educate its members and provide clinical tools toess and mitigate media effects on children and adoles-ts. The kit included a Media History form that pedia-ians were encouraged to have parents fill out to assessir childrens patterns of media use. Apparently, only a

    pediatricians used the form because they found it tooe-consuming. Pediatrician researcher Michael Rich sur-

    yed U.S. pediatric residency programs and found thatly about one-third teach about the health effects of mediaposure. He concluded that developing a pediatric mediarriculum and training pediatric residency directors or des-ated faculty may be a resource-effective means of im-ving health for children growing up in a media-saturated

    vironment [18]. Such programs could make a difference.aring from your childs doctor that the media matter inur childs health could be a powerful intervention. Moreuld and should be done to educate pediatricians as well asrents and their children, because the media do matter.

    Jane D. Brown, Ph.D.James L. Knight Professor

    School of Journalism and Mass CommunicationUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

    Chapel Hill, North Carolinatobacco use in popular movies from 1988 to 1997. Prev Med 2002;34:51623.

    ] Everett SA, Schnuth RL, Tribble JL. Tobacco and alcohol use intop-grossing American films. J Community Health 1998;23(4):31724.

    ] Sargent JD, Beach ML, Adachi-Mejia AM, et al. Exposure to moviesmoking: its relation to smoking initiation among US adolescents.Pediatrics 2005;116(5):118391.

    ] Dalton MA, Sargent JD, Beach ML, et al. Effect of viewing smokingin movies on adolescent smoking initiation: a cohort study. Lancet2003;362:2815.

    ] Kubey R. Obstacles to the development of media education in theUnited States. J Commun 1998;Winter:5869.

    ] Robinson TN, Wilde ML, Navracruz LC, et al. Effects of reducingchildrens television and video game use on aggressive behavior: arandomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2001;155(1):1723.

    ] Moore J, DeChillo N, Nicholson B, et al. Flashpoint: an innovativemedia literacy intervention for high-risk adolescents. Juv Fam CourtJ 2000;(Spring):2333.

    ] Piran N, Levine M, Irving L. GO GIRLS! Media literacy, activism,and advocacy project. Healthy Weight J 2000;(Nov/Dec):8990.

    ] Austin EA, Johnson K. Effects of general and alcohol-specific medialiteracy training on childrens decision making about alcohol.J Health Commun 1997;2:1742.

    ] Primack BA, Gold MA, Land SR, et al. Association of cigarettesmoking and media literacy about smoking among adolescents. JAdolesc Health 2006;(39)4:46572.

    ] Austin EA, Chen Y-C, Pinkleton BE, Johnson JQ. Benefits and costsof Channel One in a middle school setting and the role of media-literacy training. Pediatrics 2006;117:42333.

    ] Kubey R, Baker F. Has media literacy found a curricular foothold?Educ Week 1999 (Oct. 27).

    ] Hobbs R, Frost R. Instructional practices in media literacy and theirimpact on students learning. N J J Comm 1999;2:12348.

    ] Rich M, Bar-on M. Child health in the information age: mediaeducation of pediatricians. Pediatrics 2001;107(1):15662.


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