chapter  55
The medical community in the U.S.: treating media as an influence on health and development
ByMichael Rich
Pages 8

The medical community has long had a conflicted relationship with media (Rich, 2007). With the rapid proliferation of television and its integration into families’ lives during the 1950s, physicians recognized the potential for media to engage, educate, and empower the public to improve their health (American Medical Association, 2000). Yet some in the medical community were wary of the public’s enthusiastic embrace of mass entertainment and were concerned that indiscriminate use of media might lead to unhealthy outcomes (Smith, 1952). Each of these reactions arose from-and has been perpetuated to the present by-the medical community’s incomplete understanding of how media work, how media affect their users, and how using media in focused, mindful ways could be part of a developmentally optimal, healthy lifestyle. Since 1947, when the first closed-circuit broadcast of surgery was aired, electronic screen

media have been used to educate health professionals. Entertainment television has sporadically attempted to increase health literacy of the general population, whether in the 1946 American Medical Association (AMA)-sponsored “Cavalcade of Medicine” or in today’s medical dramas. The challenge is that, in many cases, health education and entertainment fail to marry effectively, with entertainment trumping education. Although there are several notable exceptions-such as the work of Neal Baer, MD, a television writer-producer who trained as a pediatrician and understood how television can effectively inform and empower audiences-popular medical television dramas tend to prioritize narrative over medical accuracy. For example, one study found that such shows rarely portray poorer long-term outcomes of CPR, which could contribute to unrealistically high expectations of resuscitation among viewers (Harris and Willoughby, 2009). To address this issue and leverage the power of television to promote health literacy, the

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) founded the Media Resource Team in 1994. This group of Los Angeles-based pediatricians consulted with the television and film industries to serve as a source of accurate medical information to writers and producers, promote positive media messages about children and adolescents, and discourage negative or harmful media content about or aimed at youth. Although they met the leaders of professional guilds and occasionally consulted on the development of programs, their greatest influence was to convince the producers of America’s Funniest Home Videos not to broadcast clips of children behaving in

potentially dangerous ways. Because the costs were not justified by the limited results, the AAP ceased to support the Media Resource Team in the early 2000s.