Summer 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA2

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The TV Connection


Kathryn Sunnarborg
Co-Ed Worker, Boys and Girls Club
Duluth, Minnesota

Linda Bradley
County Extension Agent
Minnesota Extension Service
University of Minnesota-Duluth

Donald K. Haynes
Associate Professor
Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation
University of Minnesota-Duluth

How do you get people to attend leader training meetings in the winter months? How can you reach a wider audience? How effective is television as a training method? How can we effectively deal with cold temperatures, ice, wind, and snow which make program delivery a problem? These questions have been asked by many Extension agents across the country.

Using television as a training method presents some challenges and problems. One is that special budget requests or grant money must be sought to produce television training packages because TV isn't a usual item for a county Extension budget. A minimum of $1,000 is needed for videotapes, production time, editing, and other supplies and materials. Since television training offers no opportunity for social interaction or answering questions, the training packet is an important resource to leader teachers. It should include specific objectives, activities, a bibliography, an evaluation form, and tip sheets for teaching others.

Why Television?

Three years of experience with television leader training programs, in northeastern Minnesota, have given agents confidence that television increases enrollment and reaches large audiences. However, Extension agents questioned whether television training could increase knowledge or change a viewer's attitudes or behavior.1

Traditional leader training meetings in St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota have been attracting 5-15 participants a session. Because of county size, agents teach the lessons at distantly scattered sites. In contrast, television leader training techniques could attract 300 or more participants without requiring agents to train leaders more than once. Television also allows training to cross county lines, which helps stretch resources.

Television leader training may also be more time and cost effective than traditional meetings.2 Cost effectiveness would depend on the county, lesson, number of people taught, and number of sites employed.

"Why Weight" Program Goals and Objectives

Weight control and exercise have been identified as top dietary needs in direct response to the national Dietary Guidelines for Americans.3 The dietary guidelines state seven main areas of focus. One specifically recommends that Americans "maintain a desirable weight." Former participants in Extension programs requested leader training on weight control and exercise. In 1986, the Minnesota Extension Service conducted a program called "Why Weight." The program's major goal was to train community leaders to recognize a safe and effective diet plan and prepare those leaders to teach it to others.

Study's Design and Procedure

Recruiting "Why Weight" community leaders began in November 1985 and continued through December. Promotional letters were sent to former Extension program participants, health professionals, community groups, and area agencies. Newspapers, radio, television, and public service announcements advertised "Why Weight" throughout St. Louis County and surrounding areas. Two hundred and fifteen leaders pre-registered to participate. Each leader received a training packet containing lesson plans and resource materials and was told when to view the television training.

Employing a pretest-posttest control group design, 50 of the 215 leaders were randomly selected to serve as experimental subjects, and 50 control subjects were selected randomly from listings of previous Extension program participants living in northwestern Minnesota.4

Each group was mailed a demographic survey and pretest accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Follow-up notices were sent to non-respondents. The survey gave Extension agents an overview of their target population. The pretest identified what the subjects already knew about weight control and exercise.

"Why Weight" participants watched the leader training on WDSE-TV, the Duluth public television station. Because residents of northwestern Minnesota are outside the WDSE-TV viewing area, the control group wasn't exposed to the program.

About one month later, a posttest was mailed to experimental and control subjects to determine if the experimental group had improved its knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. A second posttest, mailed six months later, assessed whether subjects had retained their knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

Sample Population and Demographic Survey

Of the original sample, 21 experimental and 25 control subjects completed each of the three tests. Therefore, 46 subjects were included in the statistical evaluation.

Despite equivalence of the comparison groups on education, income, and access to an Extension agent, two significant demographic factors (analyzed by comparison of uncorrelated proportions) revealed that the experimental and control groups weren't equal at the start of the program.5 A significantly larger number of the control subjects lived in rural communities (p<.05). Also, the control subjects received previous nutrition education from formal and informal sources significantly more than the experimental subjects (p<.05). The demographic surveys revealed that some of the control subjects had been exposed to a previous Extension program on weight control, with content similar to "Why Weight."6

Yet, significant differences appeared. A majority of the experimental group preferred to watch the leader training on television, while a significant number of the control group preferred to attend leader training meetings (p<.05). Participants who preferred television had little time to attend meetings, didn't have anyone to attend with, couldn't get a ride to the meeting, or didn't want to drive long distances in the winter. Leaders who preferred training meetings enjoyed being able to ask questions and talk with other leaders. Some also complained that the television programs were shown at a time when they weren't able to watch.

Pretest-Posttest Results

The experimental subjects generally increased their knowledge scores from a minimum of 59% on the pretest to 82% correct on the second posttest. Unexplainably, the control subjects showed a gradual decline in knowledge over the same time period.

However, a significant difference (p<.05) was noted between the experimental and control subjects on the second posttest question, "If a person reduced his/her caloric intake by 500 calories per day (without exercising), how many pounds would he/she lose per week?" The experimental group was 100% correct, the control group 68% correct.

Overall, a large proportion of both groups satisfied five out of six "Why Weight" knowledge objectives. They defined realistic weight reduction expectations; were able to list low-calorie food choices in each of the four food groups; knew physical, social, and economic consequences of being overweight; could list resources in their community with information on weight reduction; and could identify criteria used to select a safe and effective weight loss program.

Chi-square analysis was employed to measure the subjects' attitudes.7 Generally, both groups expressed positive attitudes, and neither group significantly increased or decreased scores between the two posttests. One important difference existed - the experimental group preferred to strenuously exercise rather than read a book. Both groups agreed that diets sounding too good to be true probably are, and preferred to eat low rather than high-calorie foods, agreeing that long-term weight loss is more important than short-term.

The analysis of variance statistic was used to analyze behavioral questions.8 Two findings were especially important: a significantly greater percentage of experimental subjects followed a planned exercise program (p<.05), and, although not significant, a greater number of experimental subjects increased their exercise level since January 1986 (p<.10). More than 50% of each group participated in planned exercises three or more times a week, exercised for 20 minutes or more a session, and reduced their caloric intake.

Conclusions and Recommendations

"Why Weight" successfully used television to train community leaders about weight control and exercise. More than 300 leaders from northeastern Minnesota participated in the television training and taught the lesson to their respective groups. Of the experimental subjects, 19 taught the lesson to 402 group members within six months of viewing the television leader training.

Television leader training appears to be a time and cost effective alternative to traditional methods. It can substantially improve enrollment, reach large, diverse audiences, and save Extension agents a great deal of time and money. Care must be taken when implementing television leader training. First, fit the subject matter to the needs of the target group. Second, know what resources/programs already exist in the community and provide different information. Third, develop leader training at the education level of the target group.


1. Linda Bradley, "Shake the Salt Out of the Diet" (1984) and "Cholesterol the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1985) (Washington, D.C.: National Accomplishment Report for USDA Agricultural Extension Service).

2. David Katz, "Cable Television and Health Promotion: A Feasibility Study with Arthritis Patients," IV Health Education Quarterly , XII (Winter 1985), 379-89.

3. U.S., Department of Agriculture and U.S., Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985).

4. Donald Campbell and Julian Stanley, Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research (Boston, Massachuetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963).

5. Joy Guilford and Benjamin Fruchter, Fundamental Statistics in Psychology and Education, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw Publishing Co., 1977).

6. Marion Anderson and Beth Russell, "Weighty Wisdom from Sara Smaller Size" (St. Paul: University of Minnesota, Agricultural Extension Service, 1983).

7. George Snedecor and William Cochran, Statistical Methods, 7th ed. (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980).

8. Ibid.