Pollock Takes Health Literacy to Television

Dr. John Pollock, who is known for creating health-oriented planetarium shows and CDs for patients, has produced a live-action, 30-minute TV pilot on health literacy. The Duquesne community is invited to catch a sneak peek of the pilot for Scientastic! on Monday, May 3.

The new family TV show intends to engage kids and their parents as active participants in their own health and lifestyle choices. The show, which is slated to air as a pilot on Pittsburgh’s PBS affiliate WQED-TV this spring, will premiere at 2 p.m. on May 3 at the Creative And Performing Arts School (CAPA), 111 Ninth St., Downtown.

The Scientastic! premiere is scheduled at CAPA, Pollock said, because a number of children from the school were extras in the show. Habiba Hopson, daughter of Dr. Rodney Hopson, Hillman Distinguished Professor in the School of Education, plays a key role in the pilot.

Habiba, the best friend of the main character, Leah, breaks her arm at soccer practice because she was pushed by a group of mean girls. Twelve-year-old Leah springs into action, going to the library, doctors’ offices and museums to learn about bones. With her little brother in tow, Leah learns how bones heal, and how nutrition and exercise affect bone strength and repair. The show also addresses bullying in a constructive way and offers kids practical steps they can take to help stop bullying.

“There’s such a great base of health-related resources in Pittsburgh, which is one of the reasons we decided to set the show here,” said Pollock, associate professor of biology. He included orthopedic surgeons and pediatricians from Children’s Hospital, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the National Aviary in the pilot show.

Pollock pushes local libraries as an invaluable source of information and, as such, Leah uses Pittsburgh-area libraries as her home base.

Fun mixes with the lessons and Pollock uses real doctors and scientists from the Pittsburgh area as information storehouses and as entertainment for the kids—in some episodes, the doctors sing and dance right alongside the actors.

Scientastic! is geared toward late elementary and middle school students and works in an interdisciplinary fashion on three levels: teaching basic science principles; tying those basic principles to health; then addressing social issues pertinent to kids. The overall goal is to help people make decisions that lead to healthy lifestyles.

“Between 70 and 100 million adults in America have low health literacy skills,” explained Pollock. “That’s basically half the adult population. Health literacy has to be a family decision—kids aren’t buying the groceries.”

Pollock and his Partnership in Education team at Duquesne, along with his production partner, Planet Earth Television, have already developed a list of over 100 topics for future shows, including diabetes, the flu and the immune system. Each show ties its particular topic to general science and health literacy and provides online resources for kids and their families.

On the show’s Web site, kids can explore the basics and fundamentals of science, while parents and teachers can access teaching aids and lesson plans developed by students in Duquesne’s School of Education.

Pollock’s latest project was funded from a number of sources, including UPMC Health Plan, National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health, The Pittsburgh Foundation and congressional directed funding from the U.S. Department of Education.