The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognizes the power of popular
entertainment in shaping the perceptions and practices of its viewers.
Television shows, movies, and music not only command the attention of
their audiences, but also reinforce existing behavior, demonstrate new
behavior, and affect audience emotions. In October 2003, the NCI
established a partnership with Hollywood executives and academic, public
health, and advocacy organizations to share information with writers and
producers about the nation's pressing health issues.
The NCI Entertainment Education Program works in partnership with the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and with
Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S)
at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center to provide
expert consultation, education and resources for writers and producers who
develop scripts with health storylines and information.
Popular entertainment is an ideal outlet for sharing health
information and affecting behavior. We are interested in providing
information that covers a variety of topics about cancer including
complementary and alternative therapies, childhood cancers, nutrition,
cancer and the environment, and much more. Knowing that 88 percent of
people in America learn about health issues from television, we believe
that primetime and daytime television programs, movies, and talk shows are great outlets for health messages.
Not only is television an effective outlet, but, in some cases, it speaks
directly to the audiences that we most want to reach - those at greatest
risk for cancer. In fact, findings in a 1999
Healthstyles Survey indicated that regular viewers of soap operas reported
more health concerns than individuals who do not watch soap operas.
Resources for TV Writers and Producers
Through the Hollywood, Health & Society program, public health and medical
experts offer expert consultation, education and resources for writers and
producers who develop scripts with health storylines and information.
Tip Sheets for TV Writers and Producers
Tip Sheets for TV Writers and Producers contain easy-to-use, credible
information on the nation's most pressing cancer issues and topics of
interest to writers. Each tip sheet includes a description of who's at
risk, typical symptoms, prevention messages, case examples, and a list of
other resources. New tip sheets are in development and a few are
already available online. Fact sheets are provided for those topics which still have tip sheets in development.
Hollywood, Health and Society staff hold meetings with the creators of TV shows and network
campaigns, conduct expert briefings for writers, and respond to inquiries
for health information. The meetings inform network and show staff about
the full range of services that are available to them, including
everything from calls for factual information to visits by NCI experts who
have national responsibility for cancer issues. Experts can answer
questions in person, by telephone or through e-mail correspondence.
Program staff can arrange expert briefings for an entire writing staff of
a TV show; set up one-on-one conversations between a producer and a health
expert to explore storyline possibilities; and identify real people who
deal with health issues first-hand, on a personal, professional or
Expert panel discussions are planned with organizations like the Writers Guild
of America, west and the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, to examine the implications of dramatizing critical public
health topics in entertainment programming. NCI officials and other health
experts talk about cancer issues such as nutrition and cancer, cancer
rates and trends, and more. Entertainment professionals who have grappled
with these topics discuss the challenges and responsibilities they face
when bringing them to the screen.
Research on Audience Effects and Needs
NCI and USC staff collaborate on research efforts to measure the impact of
TV shows and other entertainment formats on audiences. National surveys
have shown that daytime and primetime viewers pay attention to the health
information in TV shows, learn from it, act on it, and share the
information with others. A recent study of hotline callers who responded
to a public service announcement during a health storyline suggests similar findings. Current
projects include analysis of national survey data to interpret the impact
of Spanish-language media on Hispanic audiences and assessing the impact
of a Telemundo TV storyline on breast cancer.
Newsletter: "Real to Reel"
In June 2004, "Hollywood, Health and Society" launched a newsletter for entertainment writers and producers.
"Real to Reel" features health headlines, news from the CDC and NCI, as well as real life case examples of
people dealing with current health issues that can be used in entertainment programming.
For additional information, contact:
Hollywood, Health & Society
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