Teaching Health Literacy Using Popular Television Programming

In an effort to increase health literacy, this pilot study examined the use of short television clips in health literacy curriculum.

During a self-selected optional orientation for a low-income high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 55 students were shown three short clips from the television show ER to teach basic topics in cardiology. Each short clip was followed by a presentation of health education material, specifically chest pain, heart attacks, and congestive heart failure.

Information assessed from an open-ended survey administered at the end of the session found the mean age of the study was 14.6 years old. Forty-nine percent of the sample was female, 73 percent of the sample was White, and 27 percent of the sample was Black.

Key Findings:

  • Ninety-one percent noted that they enjoyed the experimental curriculum.
  • The use of two minutes of video total seemed to contribute to the acceptability of the curriculum.
  • Video usage did not detract from learning and acquiring health information. Twenty-four responses (92.3%) of spontaneously generated verifiable statements were judged accurate by two independent coders.
  • On average 2.9 examples of medical content were recorded per participant.

This research shows the feasibility of incorporating brief clips from popular television programming to engage students and provide context for health-related lessons.