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C-A3-03: Media Messages About Cancer: What Do People Understand?


ABSTRACT: Background: The importance of print health literacy is widely recognized, but oral literacy has been largely ignored. Because much health information is conveyed via spoken word, an inaccurate or incomplete comprehension of spoken health messages may have important consequences. This study explored the extent to which listeners understood critical concepts in spoken messages about cancer prevention and screening.Methods: Forty-four adults from three health plans took part in a 1-hour interview. Participants viewed six brief media clips from TV or the Web about cancer prevention and screening. Each clip contained multiple messages. Participants paraphrased the clips? main points and key concepts. We coded the accuracy of participants? responses with respect to the message content.Results: Of 44 participants, aged 41 to 70, 52% were female; 48% were non-white; and 5% had a high school education or less. Messages were generally understood by most participants but some participants misunderstood critical cancer prevention concepts. Nine of 44 could not define the term ?at risk.? Others provided approximately accurate synonyms, such as ?susceptible to,? or ?inclined to,? or gave examples of risk factors (e.g. fair skin for skin cancer) that indicated a partial understanding of the concept. In response to a news report about a comprehensive cancer study synthesizing the results of 7,000 clinical trials, 10% of the participants viewed the study size as small, or mistook the number of trials for number of patients. Some participants had trouble distinguishing ?screening? and ?prevention,? apparently believing that screening is inherently preventive.Conclusions: Most participants in this sample of moderately to well-educated adults understood the main points contained in spoken messages about cancer screening and prevention. However, important concepts such as ?at risk? (applicable to conditions besides cancer), were sometimes misunderstood. Similarly, some participants had difficulty understanding the strength of research evidence and the value of multiple studies. Comprehension depends on foundational knowledge, which even educated lay people may be missing. Speakers, whether news anchors or providers?cannot assume that listeners understand critical health concepts even if the words themselves seem simple.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC2842424 | BioStudies | 2010-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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