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TV That Might Be Good For You

A storyline on the show ER may have modestly improved the health habits of some viewers. Steve Mirsky reports.

Concerns often crop up over whether people get poor examples from characters on TV shows and in movies.  A big case is actors smoking in films and whether that encourages teens to smoke.  But here’s a rare example of a TV show having what looks like a good influence on healthy habits among viewers. 

Back in the spring, the popular show ER featured a storyline about an African American teenager who is diagnosed with high blood pressure.  The patient gets advised to eat more fruits and vegetables and to get more exercise.  A study just published in the Journal of Health Communication analyzed whether the dramatic depiction had any effects on the behavior of viewers who saw the episodes. Over 800 viewers were surveyed.  Sixty five percent said the episodes had inspired them to make positive changes in their habits.  The ER viewers also had a five percent higher knowledge base about nutrition.  The researchers say that the study illustrates the potential of entertainment TV to communicate healthy messages.  Especially because those who watch a lot of TV are more likely to be at risk for obesity.

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