Just telling and selling: current limitations in the use of digital media in public health: A scoping review

C. Clar, M. Dyakova, Kristina Curtis, C. Dawson, P. Donnelly, L. Knifton, A. Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)



To undertake a scoping review and to map research in the area of digital media use in public health.

Study design

Scoping review.


PubMed, PsycINFO, Google and major textbooks of public health communication and health psychology were searched for primary studies or systematic reviews examining the use of digital media in a health context. Searches focussed on studies published between the start of 2000 and the end of June 2013. Abstracts of reviews of public health interventions were examined with respect to target groups, health topic, intervention characteristics, media used, study design, issues of quality and ethics, and outcomes. To map this area of work fully, this information was supplemented by adding information from primary studies. Areas were identified where systematic review evidence was scarce or non-existent by comparing the final map with information from the reviews analysed.


221 systematic reviews related to digital media use in a public health context were included. Most reviews included studies with an experimental design and general ‘at risk’ target populations. Specific settings were not specified in the majority of reviews. A large variety of health topics were covered. About a quarter of reviews did not specify a health topic but were concerned with broader issues of health promotion, disease prevention, or health education. Over half of the reviews focussed on eHealth and telemedicine, and another third were concerned with mass media – social marketing. Reviews most frequently reported behaviour-related outcomes or conducted some form of content analysis or analysis of the use of particular media. Research gaps were identified relating to community-based research, participation and empowerment, active media use (especially with respect to visual media und use of specific visual methodologies), and the use of salutogenic or assets-based approaches.


The available research relating to digital media use in public health is dominated by studies relating to eHealth, telehealth or social marketing; emphasising the passive reception of messages and a focus on individual behaviour change approaches. Issues of quality and ethics need to be taken into account more consistently. Further research is needed with respect to more participatory methods, particularly those which would seek to use digital media as a means to harness individual and community assets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1075
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health
Issue number12
Early online date24 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Digital media
  • (Participatory) Visual methodologies
  • Public health


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