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January 16, 2016

Penn study will look at how TV promotes a 'culture of health'

Research to see how shows portray respect, cohesion and well-being

In the award-winning Amazon series "Transparent," Jeffrey Tambor plays a transgender woman, a role that has been praised by the LGBTQ community for highlighting a story that otherwise might not have seen the light of day in the entertainment world.

Could shows like "Transparent" be promoting of a larger "culture of health" on television? That's what a new study from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center will examine.

The study is being conducted thanks to a $745,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

The center says that after looking at the adverse effects of behaviors seen on TV, such as violence and drug use, they are going to search for trends that send a positive health message on the silver screen. Those trends include:

• Social cohesion

• Respect for difference

• Pro-health and well-being messages

Additionally, the center will expand its research into shows that are popular among African-American and Hispanic audiences, such as soap operas and crime dramas, and how they affect health decisions.

The study is a part of the center's Coding of Health and Media Project, or CHAMP. It's now been renamed the Culture of Health and Media Portrayal in Our Nation, an upgrade to CHAMPION. 

Patrick E. Jamieson, the director of the center's Adolescent Health and Risk Communication Institute, says the new research will try and build off of previous work by looking at a broader base of viewers. 

“TV portrayals can affect our nation’s increasingly diverse audiences’ attitudes and behaviors in helpful or harmful ways, and the CHAMPION project will allow for a better understanding of such influences," Jamieson said in a press release.

Past studies from the Annenberg Public Policy Center have found trends that back up his statement. A 2014 analysis found a link between the nation's dropping smoking rate and the declining prevalence of tobacco products on TV.

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