Health Update

March 10, 2004 4 min read
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Government Anti-Drug Ads Get Personal

A series of ads is broadening the focus of the federal government’s $144 million anti-drug media campaign to target those closest to teenage drug users— their friends and parents.

Part of an initiative called “Early Intervention,” the first of the 30-second television advertisements were unveiled on Super Bowl Sunday in January. Overseen by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, the messages are appearing on television and radio, and in major-market newspapers across the country.

In the past, the government’s anti-drug-abuse advertising has been criticized for failing to curb teenage drug use and sending muddled messages that offered more style than substance. (“Anti-Drug Ad Campaign Falls Flat, Study Says,” June 12, 2002.)

Some of the latest messages are startling in their directness.

One of the TV ads shows a girl drowning in a lake while another teenage girl stands a few feet away on a dock, watching silently with her hands tucked into the pockets of her sweatshirt. As the scene unfolds, the voice of a young woman asks: “If your friend was in trouble, you’d help them—wouldn’t you?”

Then the scene fades out, replaced with white lettering on a black background that reads simply: “If a friend has a problem with drugs or drinking ... do something.”

Jennifer de Vallance, a spokeswoman for the White House drug- policy office, said the campaign would continue to produce public-service messages aimed at young users of illegal drugs. But the new round of ads, she said, marks “a new approach that essentially tries to use peer pressure for positive aims.”

And the message to parents? Do your job.

“In our formative research, the main barrier identified by parents for not talking to their kids about the dangers of drug use was their own experimentation with illegal drugs during their youth—they felt it would be hypocritical for them to say anything,” Ms. de Vallance said.

She added that today’s teenagers are exposed to drugs that are more potent than those available two or three decades ago. Thus, the new print ad aimed at parents shows a coffee mug with the words "#1 Hypocrite” printed on it.

A message beneath the photo says: “So you smoked pot. And now your kid’s trying it and you feel like you can’t say anything. Get over it.”

Get Physical

The federal government also has a national media campaign aimed at increasing physical activity among children and adolescents. And, according to new data, the effort is doing some good.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced early results from the Youth Media Campaign Longitudinal Survey, conducted with child-parent duos by an independent research company last year. The research, which will be released in its entirety at a later date, showed that the media campaign was effective in increasing independent physical activity across a number of different groups of children.

Officially known as “VERB. It’s what you do,” the CDC campaign is designed to change the habits of today’s “tweenagers,” children ages 9 to 13, many of whom favor video games, Internet surfing, and television over physical activity. The campaign combines advertising, outreach with schools and other community groups, and staged events.

After one year of the program, a nationally representative survey of 3,120 young people in the target age group showed increased “free time” activity among three distinct groups, said Marian Huhman, the evaluation-team leader for the VERB campaign.

Among all children ages 9 and 10, physical activity done on their own time increased by 34 percent, Ms. Huhman said.

Among girls ages 9 to 13, the CDC says the number of weekly sessions increased 27 percent as a result of the campaign. There was no significant increase among boys in that age group.

The third group most affected by the CDC campaign was that of children ages 9 to 13 from households with annual salaries ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. Among all children in that group, weekly free-time physical activity increased by 25 percent as a result of the campaign, Ms. Huhman said.

Teen Pregnancy

Read the full report, “Teenage Pregnancy: Overall Trends and State-by-State Information,” from The Alan Guttmacher Institute. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The pregnancy rate among teenagers dropped by 28 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to a research organization on adolescent sexuality and health.

In 2000, 83.6 of every 1,000 young women ages 15-19 became pregnant—a 28 percent decline from 1990, when the teenage-pregnancy rate reached a high of 116.9 per 1,000, according to new data from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the New York City-based research organization.

Declines occurred among adolescents in all racial and ethnic groups, according to the institute’s report, “Teenage Pregnancy: Overall Trends and State-by-State Information,” released Feb. 19.

The pregnancy rate among black 15- to 19-year-olds, fell 32 percent between 1990 and 2000, to 153 per 1,000. Among white teenagers, it declined 28 percent, to 71 per 1,000. The rate among Hispanic teenagers fell 15 percent from 1992 to 2000, to 139 per 1,000, following an increase from 1990 to 1992.

Previous research links the drops in teenage pregnancy to declines in sexual activity and increased use of effective contraceptives, according to the institute, which in an earlier analysis also found that about 25 percent of the decline in teenage pregnancy from 1988 to 1995 was due to decreased sexual activity, while 75 percent was due to more effective contraception.

—Darcia Harris Bowman


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