Commentary: TV dramas provide medical news

Guess where 26 percent of Americans say they get a big part of their health information?

Television, of course. No big surprise there. The TV glows for more than eight hours a day in the average American household.

And we’re not talking about thoughtful shows on public television or obscure cable channels. A 2001 survey found that more than half of regular viewers learned about the nature of a disease and how to prevent it on a TV drama.

One of the under-appreciated aspects of television entertainment is its educational value. You can bemoan the fact that a significant percentage of Americans garner most of their information and advice from the tube — or you can celebrate the fact that any information is better than none at all.

More young adults ages 18-25 say they watch The Daily Show on Comedy Central regularly as a news source than all of the network evening news shows combined. It’s sad that they aren’t also watching the news shows, but host Jon Stewart is pretty good about drawing attention to serious subjects on The Daily Show.

In the same vein, learning about healthcare from TV can be a good thing in its own way. Studies show that the information is mostly reliable, and healthcare advocates work hard to make sure the scriptwriters get it right.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California analyzed 947 episodes from 33 television series from 2004 to 2006. A stunning 6 out of 10 of the top-rated scripted shows had at least one health-related subplot during the study period.

If you watched every episode of the 10 most-popular shows each spring for those three years, you would have absorbed 792 health-related story lines, according to the study.

To read the complete column, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.