Adventures in Media Literacy

Media & Health

The media plays a dramatic role on the public’s health. The top public health issues have been tied to advertising: smoking, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, alcohol and substance abuse. For instance, half of all alcohol sales are from underage and alcohol abusers, according to Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. In addition, alcohol ads have been placed on all 15 television shows that target African American youth, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Alcohol and Youth. Encouraging under-age alcohol use impacts many health issues, including sexually transmitted diseases, drunk driving, and depression.

Fashion advertising that glorifies exceedingly thin models impacts girl’s emotional and physical health. Issues with self-image and self esteem are evident from girl’s comparing their own bodies with those idealized in the media. The result is increasing problems with anorexia and obesity.

Media literacy would probe these issues with questions such as:

1. How can we tell if an ad is targeted towards teens?

2. Why are products such as "Pimp Juice" marketed?

3. Why do minority neighborhoods have more billboards than other neighborhoods showing how alcohol beverages are cool?

4. What messages are sent by popular music videos about being masculine and feminine?

For more information on these issues, check out the following links:

“Teens, Heavy Drinkers Drink Half of US Alcohol” Reuters, February 26, 2003

“Blacks pay a price” USA Today, June 24, 2003

“Substance Use in Popular Music and Movies” US Health & Human Services Report, 1999.

“Advertising Images of Girls and Women” Children Now, 1997.

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