Use and Abuse of Media

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At the Intersection of Health, Health Care and Policy Cite this article as: W DeJong and J A Winsten The use of mass media in substance abuse prevention Health Affairs, 9, no.2 (1990):30-46 doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.9.2.30

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Health Affairs is published monthly by Project HOPE at 7500 Old Georgetown Road, Suite 600, Bethesda, MD 20814-6133. Copyright © 1990 by Project HOPE - The People-to-People Health Foundation. As provided by United States copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code), no part of Health Affairs may be reproduced, displayed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or by information storage or retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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by William DeJong and Jay A. Winsten Prologue: Over the past three decades, the American public has been heavily influenced by the power of television and its ability to shape society. Public health officials’ initial optimism about the positive influence of mass media on society led to disappointment and skepticism. That has now been replaced by a sophisticated understanding of the important role media can play when properly executed. In this article, William DeJong and Jay Winsten explore the use of mass media in sending messages about preventing substance abuse, especially among American youth. They find that public health advocates, while producing increasingly sophisticated media campaigns, still have much to learn from the successes of the commercial sector in harnessing the power of the mass media to convince people to change behavior. Here they present recommendations for the design of future media campaigns. DeJong, who received his doctorate in social psychology from Stanford University, was director of research at the Center for Health Communication, in the Harvard School of Public Health, at the time this study was completed. In the spring of 1990, DeJong left Harvard to work as an independent consultant in health communications. Winsten, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology from The Johns Hopkins University, is director of the Center for Health Communication, formerly known as the Office of Health Policy Information. The center is recognized nationally as a resource for both policymakers and journalists. Winsten also directs the Harvard Alcohol Project, which the center launched in December 1987. Its objective is to elicit the cooperation of television writers in reinforcing the “designated driver” concept as a social norm. Over the past two television seasons, dialogue consistent with the project’s objectives appeared in eighty television episodes on major networks. Winsten last contributed to Health Affairs in Spring 1985, presenting results of a study of science and the media.

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ublic health educators have used the mass media as a primary vehicle for messages against substance abuse for the past twenty five years. In this article, we explore how the mass media can be used more effectively to prevent substance abuse, especially among preteens and adolescents. We begin by briefly describing what can be accomplished in...
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