Health Department posters just don’t work: 21st century public health

If you watch the popular Lifetime TV drama Army Wives, you may know that Joan, one of the leading characters, was recently diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). But did you know that two US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists were key consultants on the storyline about TBI?  This is an example of Entertainment Education (EE), a health marketing and communication strategy for educating the public, raising awareness and changing health behavior around the world for more than 30 years. Built on theories of behavior change and human behavior, EE uses many formats (e.g. television, film, social media, telenovela, theater) to engage the viewer’s emotions, inform audiences, and change attitudes, behavior, and social norms.  CDC’s involvement with Army Wives began with a phone call from the show to Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), which provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate information for health and medical storylines. During development of the multi-episode storyline about TBI on Army Wives, HH&S connected television scriptwriters with CDC scientists at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.  CDC is a partner and helps to fund HH&S through a cooperative agreement.  HH&S and CDC have worked with more than 30 prime time TV shows and some major motion pictures to include health messaging in storylines.  HH&S and CDC also make health information visible in the background scenery—like the sports concussion poster and autism awareness charts you may have seen on Grey’s Anatomy. For more information on HH&S projects, please visit their website. EE encourages people to live healthier lives and is a communication mechanism that can be very effective. EE stories can be an ideal way to address norms and health beliefs that are deeply rooted in society, while still entertaining and attracting audiences that may be hard to reach. Army Wives can be seen on the Lifetime Network on Sundays at 10 p.m. EST.  The clip where Joan learns about having TBI is here: Lifetime/Army Wives – TBI Awareness.

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