Health & Wellness: making a drama out of public health

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A
great
deal of time and effort these days goes into making TV medical dramas both authentic and technically accurate. But it would appear that an unlooked for bonus of such detail is that these dramas – whilst being mainly entertainment vehicles- unintentionally improve health awareness in the watching public. They do so by providing accurate health information and can cause individuals to take action in regard to their own health or that of their family. In other words, take action to achieve “wellness”. These dramas can thus aid the current shift of focus of governments and public health practitioners to deliver Health & Wellness, aka Health & Wellbeing, (a National Wellness service rather than a National Health service?)  

This shift to Wellness i.e. staying healthy, is in response to the rise of chronic diseases and inequity. The aim is to empower the individual to make healthy choices and to address the social, environmental and economic factors which limit that choice. Health awareness is therefore a prerequisite for wellness.

Call the Midwife, the hit medical TV drama,  works hard to depict accuracy and authenticity 

An essay in April's Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine describes the steps taken by the writers, production team and actors of the hit BBC TV series, Call the Midwife, to ensure the series has sufficient medical accuracy and authenticity [the series is set in the poor Poplar district of East London during the early years of the National Health Service (1950s)]. The series  is viewed by more than 10 million people each week, and sold to almost 200 territories worldwide.

The author  of the essay is the actor Stephen McGann who plays the local community docter [GP], Dr Patrick Turner.

As one would expect, a clinical advisor [a practising midwife and lecturer] oversees childbirth and nursing procedures but this series has gone further. Open-access journals and the Wellcome Trust archive are used as resources by the writer, and relevant health charities are called upon to provide an insight into the health impact of social conditions of the time. McGann himself deliberately chose to make his character a smoker “after reading a BMJ study* [by Richard Doll: Mortality in relation to smoking’: 50 years' observation on male British doctors  BMJ 328 (7455): 1519] which observed the effects of smoking on men over a 50-year period, starting in 1951.  A total of 34,439 smokers took part in the research – all of them doctors.” [*The first publication based on this cohort was in 1954 and is in the Global Health Archive database: ‘The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits.  BMJ 328 (7455): 1529.]

But McGann then goes on to explain that the medical accuracy and authenticity pioneered by ‘Call the Midwife’ has communicated valuable insights to ordinary people into important public health issues …giving them the information to improve their own health.

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The ethics of tobacco packaging

It’s a surreal moment when you realise that packaging is an ethical issue. Where does the packaging end up after you have consumed the product (landfill or recycled or exported to become someone else’s problem)? Did the advertising on the packaging influence your choice of one food brand over another?

The choices you made, and your government allowed, affect your environment & your health. But I’m not about to tell you about improved food labelling on packaging to combat obesity. This is the week of the World NO Tobacco Day (31st May) and this blog addresses tobacco packaging: the use of standardized packaging to further reduce consumption and address the world's leading agent of death…tobacco.

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Despite the  WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,  taxation policies and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, MORE needs to be done.

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No strings attached: public health messages from puppets!

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Image:Loren Javier           Father Christmas & wife puppets         Happy Christmas!
                                                                                       

One intriguing way of getting health messages across to communities who are illiterate and whose spoken language may not even have words to describe the medical concept, is to entertain them. Travelling theatre groups  in Africa sing or act out AIDs prevention stories, board games educate children on climate or help mothers cope with domestic violence, and, not to be left out, there is now an online game that can support the fight against hunger (see UN food aid agency helps create online game to fight hunger)

Another way is storytelling with puppets and I am going to tell you about the work of one particular company No Strings.

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Getting kids to eat healthy- mission impossible?

There’s a challenge! How to do it? Stealth, education, marketing, example. Which do you choose?

Hand_with_strawberries3 Should we hide fruit and vegetables in meals so children eat them without realising as suggested in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently or use marketing to improve the image of healthy food, employing packaging and advergames? Or in fact should we just try to lead by example and make sure the home and school environments help children establish a healthy diet habit at a young age. Last but not least, does education play a role?

I’d love an answer to this one!

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