The Medias influence on health Essay

This essay has a total of 2756 words and 12 pages.

The Medias influence on health

The mass media (including everything from television and music to popular novels and fan
cultures), creates an endless and accessible flow of information. "What we know about the
world beyond out immediate surroundings comes to us via the media (Yates 1999)." The
technology of electronic media and the art of advertising have combined to create very
powerful tools of influence. These tools are capable of shaping the attitudes, values and
behaviors of large numbers of people (Walsh.) By identifying and examining the various
forms of health information contained in the media, problems arise because the media does
not present it's messages in a neutral and straightforward way. Because the media distorts
reality, the public must become more conscious and critical of various medias in order to
protect their mental and physical heath.

Emotion focuses attention, determines what is remembered, shapes attitudes, motivates, and
moves one to act. Considering this, its no surprise that the emotional centers of the
brain are the primary target for marketers and advertisers. "The art of advertising is
difficult to master and it takes a great deal of skill and creativity to achieve
proficiency (Walsh 1999.) However, the underlying psychological principles are quite
simple. Once the desired emotional state is achieved in the viewer, the product or message
becomes mentally linked to the state. For example, viewers seeing a television ad for the
first time may not know what the product is until the very last seconds of the ad. The
first 28 seconds of the 30-second ad are used to create the mood. Once the mood is set,
then the product is introduced and the emotional association is made. The most effective
ads are not informational, but emotional. In some cases, the feelings evoked by the ad may
have no logical connection to the product whatsoever. As long as the desired emotion is
linked with the product, the mission has been accomplished (Walsh.)

The media creates emotion using messaging techniques. Certain filming techniques are used
to gear viewers towards the desired emotions, including the use of camera angles,
selective editing, framing, reaction shots, sound effects, quick cuts, lighting tricks,
computer graphics and music. These techniques focus attention, and create mental shortcuts
on an unconscious level. Message qualities are further expressed using a combination of
symbols, exaggeration, fear, humor, testimonials, repetition, flattery, sex appeal, visual
imagery, bandwagon, plain folks, nostalgia, warm and fuzzy, beautiful people, and bribery.

Theories and models of health behavior can be used to explain behavior and clarify the
effects of external influences on individuals. Health promotion educators use many
different models for understanding behavior change and designing successful interventions.
Some common models are used to describe and predict behavior. Skinner and Pavlov
introduced a behavioral and operant conditioning theory that stated humans are biological
machines and behavior is a product of conditioning, Freud argued humans are driven by
subconscious instinct in his Psychoanalytic theory, and Rogers started a wellness movement
in his humanist and client-centered view. Behavior theories exist on many levels including
individual, familial, and societal.

On an individual level, the Health Belief Model states that changes in behavior depend on
an individuals belief that a health problem is serious (perceived severity), that one may
be susceptible to the problem (threat), that changing one's behavior will reduce the
threat (benefit), ones perception of the obstacles necessary to change the behavior
(barriers), and the belief that one has the ability to change one's behavior (self-

On a familial and/or societal level, the Theory of Reasoned Action, Transtheoretical
theory, and Social Cognitive theory are used. The Theory of Reasoned Action focuses on
ones intentions and motivations to change. The Transtheoretical theory can be used to
predict and understand healthy and unhealthy behavior by providing a framework for
explaining how behavior change occurs. The stages include pre-contemplation,
contemplation, preparation or decision, action and maintenance. The model views behavior
change as a process in which individuals are at various stages of readiness to change. The
Stages of Change Model is not linear, and individuals can enter and exit at any point and
may repeat a stage several times. This acknowledges that not everyone is ready to change

The Social Cognitive Theory proposes that behavior change is influenced by the
environment, personal factors, and aspects of the behavior itself. The theory explains
ways individuals gain and maintain attention, specifically addressing the processes of
attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Individuals experience an education
process consisting of reinforcement, self-efficacy, behavioral capacity (learning what to
do and how), expectations, and outcome expectancy. Social Cognitive theory helps a health
educator understand the complex relationships between the individual and his or her
environment, how actions and conditions reinforce or discourage change, and the importance
of believing in and knowing how to change (Health Behavior Models, 1998.)

Many would agree that the media are the biggest educators in today's society. "By age 18 a
young person will have seen 350,000 commercials and spent more time being entertained by
the media than any other activity except sleeping (Walsh.)" A society with such immense
media-saturation is cause for concern, especially in regards to health. The impact of the
media on adolescents in terms of nutrition, sexual information, alcohol and tobacco,
violence, and stress has been greatly evaluated. By examining these areas, we can begin to
address and examine how media literacy can be used to reduce the negative influences mass
media are believed to have on young people's health-related attitudes and behaviors

Proper nutrition is especially important for adolescents. Early dietary decisions can have
lifelong health implications such as obesity, poor nutrition, inadequate female
reproductive development (Childhood Obesity, Kaiser Family Foundation.) The media often
perpetuates poor diet decisions. "One study estimated that early adolescents between two
and 12 contributed $82.4 billion in food and beverage purchases in 1990 (Walsh.)" Even
more alarming is the issue of body image. Young adolescents are led to believe that the
media-created image of the ideal body is how their bodies should look. In an attempt to
have the perfect body, females often end up adopting fad diets that may lead to more
serious eating disorders. Boys are susceptible to media body images because they want to
build muscles like many actors and sports heroes. This desire to "bulk up" can lead to
poor diet and possibly the use of steroids. Awareness in students could be increased by
having them examine existing advertisements and determine how males and females are
typically portrayed (American Parents, 2004.) An effort must be made not to depict either
gender in a stereotypical way. By analyzing media, we learn about the inherent meaning of
body image, body language, and stereotypes.

Mass media also provide formal and informal messages about sexuality. Adolescents are
adopting norms for their behavior based on what they see and hear in the media. "Liebert
and Sprafkin concluded that adolescents who watch a lot of sexual content on TV are less
satisfied with their sexuality and develop misconceptions (American Parents, 2004.)"
Although sexuality is a difficult topic to discuss with youngsters, an effort must be made
to create media literate students who can evaluate the sexual information provided by the
mass media. .

Television shows depicting the awkwardness and confusion surrounding sexuality can be used
to help students understand it is normal to feel anxious about sex and that they should
talk about their feelings. Discussing these issues may reduce students' anxiety about sex
and help them feel more comfortable with their emotions and physical changes.

Sex is often associated with alcohol in the media. Gorgeous, sexy female models are a
constant in beer and wine advertisements that target males. Television shows often portray
alcohol as a means to sex. In addition, alcohol is associated with success, excitement,
and good times. For younger media consumers, media depictions of alcohol are tantalizing
and alluring. "A 1991 report said that 35 percent of all wine coolers in the United States
are consumed by high school juniors and seniors. The report also revealed that these
upperclassmen drink 1.1 billion cans of beer and half of the 20.7 million seventh through
twelfth graders drink (Walsh)."

Although alcohol is heavily advertised in this country, there is one product that tops it:
cigarettes. Like alcohol, cigarettes are marketed to young people, although both the
alcohol and tobacco industries challenge such a claim. The high volume of alcohol and
tobacco advertisements makes media literacy training a must for young people. Students
should study the words and images in cigarette ads, paying attention to the activities
depicted, the moods created, and the settings. Students can be asked to consider
differences between ads for cigarettes preferred by female class members versus cigarettes
preferred by male class members (Willis and Okunade, 1997).

The impact of the mass media on early adolescents has been studied extensively, with one
of the most intensive areas of research has been violence in the media. Because
adolescents watch about 20 hours of television a week there is serious concern about the
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