An Ounce of Prevention: Q&A with Keryn Pasch
Pasch has been devoted to the idea that negative health outcomes like obesity and addiction are preventable, especially if they are addressed early. Her research focuses on the influence of media on youth risk behaviors as well as factors that may alter the influence of advertising. “I really believe in primary prevention,” she said. “If we can prevent things early on it’s going to help across a multitude of outcomes. They all tend to be linked.”
Describe your current research project.
We looked at food, beverage, alcohol, and tobacco advertising around 34 middle schools, 14 high schools, and nine hospitals in the Austin area. We objectively documented all the outdoor advertising within a half-mile of the schools and hospitals and analyzed it for content and theme. We also analyzed the ad content for nutritional information so we’d know how often calories, fat, and sugars were advertised. We’re currently analyzing that data and should have some results soon.
Can you describe the trends you’ve seen?
We found more than 7,000 food and beverage ads – not including alcohol and tobacco – around the schools. We defined as food and beverage advertising as anything that entices you to eat or drink.. I was surprised that surrounding 57 schools we found 5,600 advertisements. On average, there were 113 for the middle schools and 143 for the high schools. That’s a lot of exposure. And that’s just within a half mile.
Do advertisements differ from neighborhood to neighborhood?
Historically, studies have shown that there’s more tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and beverage advertising in minority neighborhoods. We did some analyses and found the ads are most prevalent at low-socioeconomic-status (SES) schools. This was just with Austin ISD schools. The schools in poor neighborhoods had more than twice the advertising of higher SES schools. Additionally, lower SES schools had significantly more fast food outlets compared to higher SES schools.
What is most personally rewarding about your research?
It’s very exciting to see undergraduates motivated to go into research. It’s also great when I introduce them to something new and they realize, “You know, I didn’t think I would like this but I love this.” I also like figuring out the problems and trying to add my little pieces to the evidence that says there are things in the larger environment that make it unhealthy. Adding one more piece of evidence helps bring the issue to people’s awareness.
About Dr. Keryn Pasch
- Dr. Keryn Pasch, assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education since 2008
- National Cancer Institute postdoctoral fellow in cancer prevention
- Founder of UT’s Prevention Research Lab