Study: ‘ER’ Episodes Influence Viewers Health Knowledge

Who says you can’t learn anything from television.

Recent episodes of the TV show “ER,” tackling the subjects of teen obesity, hypertension and healthy eating had a positive impact on the attitudes and behaviors of those watching it, especially male viewers, according to a new study.

The findings, from University of Southern California researchers, will appear in the Sept. 14 Journal of Health Communication and now available online.

“This study demonstrates the importance of interventions and programs targeted at a population level,” said Dr. Thomas W. Valente, associate professor of preventive medicine and a member of the Institute for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention Research (IPR) at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, in a news release.

“We have so many public heath issues to deal with," he continued. "We can’t restrict ourselves to any one strategy. We have to do everything and anything we can to help people improve their health.”

The impact of the episodes was evaluated using three separate datasets, one of which provided information on a sample of 807 primetime viewers before and after the episodes aired. An independent firm collected surveys from viewers, measuring whether their self-reported behavior and their nutritional attitudes, knowledge and practices were impacted by the storyline.

The study found that ER viewers were 65 percent more likely to report a positive change in their behavior after watching the episodes. The results also suggested that the storyline had modest impacts on knowledge, attitudes and practices, Valente said. And those who watched ER had a 5 percent higher rate of knowledge about nutrition than those who did not.

“People get their information from entertainment,” Valente added. “It’s not a magic bullet. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but we’d be silly to ignore its potential.”