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Video-on-demand series brings attention to realities of diabetes

Can reality TV help raise awareness about health issues?

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — According to various surveys and articles on the topic, television networks love reality TV. After all, a reality TV show is cheaper — $100,000 to $500,000 per episode, according to some estimates — and simpler to produce than a show with a script, multiple sets and special effects. And to boot, it gets a lot of viewers. But regardless of their benefits to big media companies, reality TV shows also have a habit of influencing culture, which UnitedHealth Group and Comcast hope to use to their advantage.

(THE NEWS: UnitedHealthGroup, Comcast launch pilot to evaluate video-on-demand programming for Diabetes Prevention Program. For the full story, click here.)

Notice how people like Snooki and The Situation — stars of the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore" — once ordinary people from New Jersey, have become major celebrities who dazzle the entertainment industry and even influence people's tastes in fashion. But does reality TV have the ability to influence public health as well?

Certainly, the late Pedro Zamora, a cast member on the third season of MTV's long-running reality TV series "The Real World," helped bring a lot of public attention to the AIDS epidemic with his presence on the show as a gay man living with the disease and subsequent death from it. In a related vein, after cooking show host Paula Deen went public about her diagnosis with Type 2 diabetes, drug maker Novo Nordisk hired her as a spokeswoman, though this also had the unintended side effect of generating a backlash against Deen.

The effect of the UnitedHealth Group-Comcast alliance remains to be seen, but presenting viewers with real people might allow them to identify with cast members more than they would with, say, actors or cartoon characters.

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