U.S. Spends $2.7M to Study Impact of TV on Area of Vietnam That Lacks Electricity

Eric Scheiner | January 23, 2014 | 12:10pm EST
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In this April 11, 2011 photo, Vo Thi Quan, 44, left, her husband Hanh, 46, top right, and their two daughters, Tuyen, right, and Trieu have dinner. (AP Photo/Le Quang Nhat)

(CNSNews.com) - The Department of Health and Human Services is spending $2,797,979 on a study that brings television to more than a dozen remote villages in Vietnam to study its impact on their culture and reproductive behavior.

“In cooperation with the Vietnam government, we have selected 14 villages in a remote, mountainous area of Vietnam that currently lacks electricity,” according to the grant description for ‘Television and International Family Change: A Randomized Experiment.'

“Treatment villages will receive televisions and generators with gasoline to operate the televisions. Control villages will not receive generators or televisions.”

The principal investigator of the study, Dr. Rukmalie Jayakody of the Penn State Population Research Center, tells CNSNews.com that while groundwork for the study began in 2010, the televisions and generators were just installed this past August.

The televisions used in the study will only receive four channels. “What villages have access to is not cable television or satellite television, but just Vietnam TV,” Jayakody says.

“One is really a news channel, one is a sports channel, one is a mix of entertainment and a little bit of education. For example, ‘if I was a farmer, what should I feed my pig to make my pig healthy?’ kind of things, and then the fourth channel is also a mix of entertainment and news,” Jayakody says.

Vietnam Village (AP Photo)

A study on the impacts television has on the remote communities will be conducted annually for three years. The project has received federal grant money every year since its inception in 2010, totaling an amount over $2.7 million. It is set to receive $705,972 for fiscal year 2014 alone.

“After collecting baseline information on all 14 villages using mutually reinforcing qualitative (family and community ethnographies) and quantitative (survey interviews) data collection strategies, we will randomly assign half the villages to the treatment group and the other half to the control group,” researchers explained.

The specific aims of the study are to:

(1) “Examine the causal impacts of television on family formation attitudes and behaviors, including age at marriage, parent's role in the mate selection process, desired family size, age at first birth, and contraceptive use;

(2) Examine the causal impacts of television on reproductive health knowledge (knowledge of STI's and their prevention, knowledge of modern contraceptives), premarital sexual activity, use of reproductive health services, and condom use; and

(3) Examine the specific mechanisms through which television effects operate.”

Televisions (AP Photo.)

“There’s lots of hypothesis from the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the CDC--that access to television will improve health, because they (people) will get more information about health from television. For adolescents particularly on sexually transmitted infections and reproductive health, Jayakody says.

“World-wide one of the major hypothesis is that access to television improves information and education on contraception therefore increasing contraception rates and reducing fertility. On the health side, that’s one of our major focuses,” she added.

Investigators with the project will also test hypotheses on how access to television impacts obesity, gender relationships and public displays of affection.

The federal grant money the study receives is useful to Americans, according to Jayakody, “I think a lot of theories that we have on issues that impact the United States are based on the premise that television has effects, although we have no data to support that.”

“So, going back to one of the major health concerns for the U.S., which is obesity, we have hypotheses in the U.S. that television changes physical activity behavior and food behavior, but we don’t have any data on that. So what we learn from Vietnam on the impact of television, on physical activity, as well as food intake and food preferences definitely informs theories we are using in the United States.”

“In terms of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception - those also have very important implications to the United States,” Jayakody said.

The first publications on the study are expected to be available in May.

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