Date of Award

8-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Michael J. Socolow

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Claire F. Sullivan

Abstract

Throughout history, soap operas have included story lines that mirror real struggles or experiences of the country at a particular time; HIV/AIDS story lines, characters serving in the War on Terror, even cloning and stem-cell research. Today one of the biggest problems facing the United States is obesity and the growing rise of unhealthy Americans. Soap operas have been shown to be important tools to represent and reproduce appropriate modes of social behavior. Analysis of representations of health behavior on soap operas will provide scholars and critics with a better understanding of how certain behaviors could be privileged over others, to the benefit of American public health. This research analyzes the kinds of messages about health and healthy lifestyle behaviors portrayed on soap operas. It asks: What kinds of health messages are they sending on a normal day-to-day basis. Do soap characters engage in healthy behaviors? How often do they engage in unhealthy behaviors? Are there any consequences or positive outcomes for any of these actions?, This research uses a mixed methods approach. First, it is a detailed quantitative content analysis. Variables were identified and frequencies tabulated, but once the health behaviors were counted and identified, a qualitative thematic analysis was used to further analyze the behaviors. Using suggested healthy lifestyle behaviors as defined by the CDC, the soap operas were coded for their portrayals of four health behaviors the CDC found to be most important to a healthy lifestyle: physical activity, nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption. For those portrayals of health behaviors that rose to at least the level of dialogue, a further analysis was conducted using a qualitative method; a thematic analysis. The goals of the second half of this study were to: (a) describe ways that health behaviors are portrayed, and (b) identify meanings related to these portrayals. Thus, this study provides both frequency data and a thematic interpretation that in combination offer greater insight into the extent and nature of the messages viewers are exposed to when viewing the portrayal of health behaviors on soap operas. The major findings of this study included the high amount of alcohol consumed or talked about being consumed on the 48 hours of daytime television studied. The lack of exercise depicted on soap operas for both men and women is a second major finding. A final significant finding is that tobacco use was not mentioned or visually portrayed at all. It is concluded that the health problems of Americans are not going to go away on their own and everyone needs to do their part. Soap operas have the opportunity to provide their viewers with positive healthy lifestyle behaviors but are not doing so with their current portrayals of health behaviors.

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