Spring 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA1

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Radio: Untapped Teaching Tool


Eunice Romero-Gwynn
Community Nutrition Specialist
Department of Nutrition
Cooperative Extension
University of California-Davis

Mary K. Marshall
Home Economist
Cooperative Extension
San Bernardino County, California

Radio has been a relatively untapped teaching resource in the United States. In developing countries, however, radio has been used extensively as a vehicle for health, nutrition, and agricultural education.1 Some of the new challenges facing Cooperative Extension in the United States include the need to serve a culturally diverse population and the need to reach larger geographical areas with the same or reduced staffing.2 Radio is an effective resource to present subject matter of general interest as well as specialized content directed to specific target groups.

Practice Changes

Although it's often assumed that the outcome of education through media is limited to transmission and acquisition of information, there's evidence that behavioral changes can occur as well.3 Griffit and Knutson4 believe that attitudes deeply rooted in tradition are difficult to change, but modification is possible if the content of the educational program addresses specific attitudes and practices. According to these authors, education is likely to be more effective if the communicator is perceived as one who can be trusted, who's an expert, and who holds prestige among the intended audience. A study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas showed that education using the radio increased awareness of hypertension, obesity, and diabetes among Hispanics, and one-third of them took action to improve their health.5

We tested the feasibility and effectiveness of delivering nutrition education through radio broadcasting to low-income Hispanic mothers. This project was part of several attempts to implement the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) through alternative methods. The established method uses nutrition education assistants who teach low-income mothers individually or in group settings.

As a result of the radio project, we proposed to answer the following questions:

  • Do low-income Hispanic women respond to an announcement for a radio nutrition course and register to participate?
  • Do registered participants listen to at least 50% of the lessons?
  • Do participants learn presented information and make any behavioral changes accordingly?

Program and Evaluation Methods

Five 20-minute nutrition radio scripts were written adapting units of the EFNEP curriculum to specific dietary patterns of Hispanics of Mexican descent. The emphasis was on supporting existing positive food patterns and improving specific practices common among the intended audience. Scripts were written and recorded in an interview format, including food terminology commonly used by the target audience - Hispanics of Mexican descent. A local Spanish radio station donated air time to broadcast lessons weekly for five weeks.

The nutrition radio course was free and advertised during the month before broadcasting began. Brochures that included an enrollment form were placed in community centers and other public places frequented by Hispanics. In addition, announcements were broadcast by a local Hispanic radio station. Registration was conducted by mail, telephone, or at community centers. At enrollment, participants were given: number of lessons, time of broadcasting, pre- and post-tests to be administered, and certificate of participation to be given at completion. Reminder cards were also mailed to enrolled participants. To assess the effect of the radio lessons, a test including questions on selected food and nutrition knowledge and practice was prepared. The test was administered to participants before and after the radio course through telephone interviews conducted by three bilingual nutrition education assistants instructed in telephone questioning techniques.


During the month in which the classes were advertised, 175 women and one man inquired about the course; 125 women registered to participate. Of these, 118 were contacted for the pre-test and 102 were reached for the post-test. The mean age of participants was 31.7 (+8.6 ) years. The mean level of education was 6.4 (+3.6) years. Fifty-one percent spoke both English and Spanish and 49% spoke Spanish only.

Sixty-seven percent of the participants listened to all five lessons, 15% listened to four lessons, 18% listened to one to three lessons, and four percent listened to no lessons. Responses to the pre- and post-tests were corrected and scores were obtained for the changes in knowledge and behavior reported by participants. As shown in Table 1, there were increases in knowledge and changes in dietary practices. Although the mean score of changes in knowledge wasn't large, the difference between pre- and post-test knowledge was statistically significant (p = 0.05). Ninety-seven percent of the respondents reported learning at least one new concept or making at least one change in their dietary practices. The mean number of new practices reported was two with a range of from one to seven new practices.

Examples of reported knowledge learned were - I learned that:

  • "Enriched rice shouldn't be washed before cooking."
  • "Dry milk can be mixed with flour or masa to improve the nutrition value of tortillas."
  • "Vegetables should be cooked for short periods of time."
  • "Frozen and canned vegetables can be as nutritious as fresh ones."
  • "The importance of using less fat in cooking."
  • "Ways of saving money when buying foods."
  • "How to prepare refried beans without fat."

The behavioral changes reported were divided into three categories: (1) improving food consumption; (2) decreasing consumption of fat, salt, and sweets; and (3) improving food shopping skills. Results are shown in Table 2. A multiple regression analysis controlling for years of education and age showed no effects from these independent variables.

In the post-test, conducted from two to three weeks after the last lesson, participants were asked if they'd have liked the opportunity to ask questions during or after the radio lessons. Fifty-one percent of the respondents said yes. In addition, several respondents voluntarily offered the following comments about the radio lessons:

  • "Lessons should last for one hour so we can learn more."
  • "The lessons should continue."
  • "I learned a lot."
  • "The lessons were great."

At the end of the radio classes, participants were invited to attend a reception at a community center hosted by the participating radio station. Certificates of completion and recipe booklets were given out, and drawings were held for 12 food basket gifts. About 70 of the 102 who completed the course attended the event with their spouses and children.

Table 1. Knowledge and behavioral scores for the pre-test and post-test.



Knowledge pre-test 20.7 4.3 0.000
post-test 23.6 5.2 5.05 0.000
Behavior pre-test 26.7 6.6
post-test 33.3 8.2 9.30 0.000

Table 2. Behavioral changes reported.

n=102 %
Improved food consumption:
   Eats more vegetables 28%
   Improved use/preparation of vegetables 25
   Use of nonfat dry milk 16
Use less:
   Fat, including lard 28
   Salt 27
   Soft drinks and sugar 25
Improved food shopping skills:
   Saves money on groceries 24
   Buys generic and store brands 8
   Compares prices 8
   Buys food in bulk 6
   Writes a shopping list 1

Conclusions and Implications

This study suggests that radio is an accepted and successful medium for conveying nutrition education to low-income Hispanic mothers. Registration was high and the number of participants who listened to all the lessons (67%) was much more than the 50% initially established as a successful criterion. Our results are consistent with other studies. Ramirez reported that five five-minute radio episodes increased awareness of chronic disease among Hispanics in Texas, and 39% of them acted to improve their health.6 A control group study conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition in three Mexican villages showed that women who participated in radio programs achieved a similar level of education and behavioral changes as mothers who were given the same course in a traditional classroom setting.7

Our study suggests that the radio lessons promoted learning new knowledge and several behavioral changes among participants. The following factors may have contributed to the success of this project: (1) the practical, informal approach of the lessons and the inclusion of dietary practices specific to the audience, (2) credibility and prestige of the university and its Extension programs in the eyes of the audience, and (3) air time allocated by the radio station to this project at a time normally used for a popular educational program aimed at Hispanics. The extent to which participants of our program may have been influenced by these factors isn't known. The potential of educational radio to reach Hispanic families should be explored in other settings. Educational content and language should be tailored to the specific subgroups of Hispanics addressed.8

In conclusion, the use of radio as an educational tool for Extension programs aimed at Hispanics can be successful due to the large number of Spanish radio stations in the United States and the widespread use of radio among Hispanics. Hispanics listen to radio an average of 30 hours per week or 20% more than the general population.9 The potential of radio as a channel for educational programs for other Extension audiences deserves further exploration.


1. M. G. Cerqueira and others, "A Comparison of Mass Media Techniques and a Direct Method for Nutrition Education in Rural Mexico," Journal of Nutrition Education, XI (No. 2, 1979), 133-37 and T. H. Cooke and S. Romweber, Radio Advertising Techniques and Nutrition Education: A Summary of a Field Experiment in the Philippines and Nicaragua, Final Report (Washington, D.C.: Manoff International, Inc., 1977).

2. O. E. Thompson and D. Gwynn, "Improving Extension: Views from Agricultural Deans," Journal of Extension, XXVII (Spring 1989), 7-10.

3. C. F. Schainie and M. Sundel, "A Community Mental Health Innovation in Mass Media-Preventive Education," American Journal of Community Psychology, VI (No. 6, 1978), 573-81; D. D. Hunt, N. G. Ward, and U. L. Bloom, "A Preliminary Study of Public Response to Newspaper, TV and Radio Presentations on Depression," Hospital Community Psychology, XXXIII (April 1982), 304-305; and A. G. Ramirez, "Vivir o morir? The Effects of Radio on Health Education for Hispanics" (Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, November 13-17, 1983).

4. S. W. Griffit and A. L. Knutson, "The Role of Mass Media in Public Health," American Journal of Public Health, L (April 1960), 515-23.

5. Ramirez, Vivir o morir?

6. Ibid.

7. Cerqueira and others, "A Comparison of Mass Media Techniques."

8. W. R. Gombeski and others, "Communicating Health Information to Urban Mexican Americans: Sources of Health Information," Health Education Quarterly, IX (No. 4, 1982), 293-330.

Editor's suggestions for using this article

Discuss the findings in this article at a staff or team meeting. Regardless of program area, specialization, or issue, ask:

1. Are we targeting clientele as specifically as was done in this case?
2. Do we know our specific clientele groups well enough to target them this directly?
3. Are we using radio effectively, including attaining behavioral and practice changes?
4. Are we evaluating our impacts effectively?