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Media literacy can be critical in making informed health decisions related to pandemics

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From Texas Standard:

As the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country, cases and hospital admissions are on the rise, especially in places with relatively low vaccination rates. And there is a real and growing concern that misinformation thriving in some of these places is having a direct impact on people’s health choices.

But one tool that could help penetrate this misinformation is media literacy. Yvonnes Chen, who studies media literacy and health at the University of Kansas, told Texas Standard that the tools people have to better distinguish fact and fiction in the media they consume could help them make better decisions about their health .

“I think it’s important to understand the purpose of each media message and the motives behind each media producer. And it’s also important to realize that each media message has its own values ​​and views, ”said Chen.

RELATED: Texas’ Rapidly Growing COVID Case Numbers Is Tied To Delta Variation And Low Vaccination Rates

Knowing your level of media literacy is the first step to becoming a smarter consumer of health news and information. Chen says everyone should ask themselves if they feel safe to tell facts from falsehoods. And they should also pay attention to what they read, see, hear, and engage in online.

“When everyone is reading a message, it’s important to think about it, huh, who is writing this? Which media organization is behind it? What could be the motives and perhaps the positions of the potential media company? What about the author: Does the author have enough knowledge and background information to be informed enough to tell me more about what I need to know about this piece? ”Said Chen.

These are all important questions that should be asked, especially during the pandemic. Chen says that many factors, such as religious beliefs and education, can contribute to a person’s health care decisions, but the media they consume can also play an important role.

“We can certainly see that consuming misinformation, especially staying in an isolated media environment, affects people’s reluctance to vaccinate and their general understanding of masking,” said Chen.

Anyone can improve their media literacy at any age, says Chen. However, there are programs that aim to teach high school students media literacy in English class. The approach is similar to literary criticism, she says, which teaches a student to take into account an author’s background and the place and time he wrote a particular piece to better understand his message.

Chen says developing media literacy, including a healthy dose of skepticism, is important to people’s overall health during the pandemic and beyond.

“Media literacy can be applied to a number of contexts including substance use prevention, sugar-sweetened beverages … obesity, nutrition education,” she said. “The thing is, if we feel like we’ve known enough, we don’t really know much. And I think media literacy embodies this attitude that anyone can develop. ”

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