“Obviously, we need more diversity among participants in order to
conduct research that reflects the population,” Bleakley said. “The
objective of our project is to understand how to effectively communicate
the importance of prevention-trial participation to men and diverse
groups so that they’ll sign up in greater numbers.”
She will begin the project by examining the factors that lead
people to sign up for registries and assess how those factors are
influenced by race and gender.
“Different registries require different things of participants, so we
need to examine what makes people more receptive and more willing to
participate,” Bleakley said.
The research team, including UD graduate students, will then develop
evidence-based, culturally relevant recruitment messages based on their
findings. Finally, the messaging will be tested to see if it is
effective in increasing diversity.
Bleakley is also conducting research focused on a much younger group.
Supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
(NIDCR), she is examining the attitudes of adolescents toward sports
Her project, which began in February and is funded for two years, is
seeking to learn how the marketing that sports drink companies do
influences adolescents’ beliefs about the drinks.
“People are confused about the benefits of sports drinks, whether
they’re helpful for hydration or athletic performance,” Bleakley said.
“But, really, it’s just a sugary drink.”
The NIDCR is interested because sugary drinks can cause cavities, in
addition to such other possible health risks as obesity and diabetes.
Bleakley and her research team, which began work at her previous
institution, the University of Pennsylvania, are surveying a national
sample of 500 adolescents. They are interested in the teens’ beliefs
about sports drinks and how those beliefs may be tied to the advertising
“We want to use communication science to analyze the marketing behind
these drinks,” Bleakley said. “What strategies are the companies using?
And how can we counter that to educate people, especially adolescents
and their parents?”
The project, she said, is similar to other work she’s done involving
adolescents and issues related to health. These include research focused
on the media effects on adolescent health risk behaviors such as
alcohol use, sexual behavior and obesity-related behavior.
Health communication research at UD
Bleakley is an example of an increasing interest in health issues in UD’s Department of Communication.
The department’s chair, Kami Silk, who is Rosenberg Professor of
Communication, is a health communication scholar who investigates how to
communicate effectively to promote positive health outcomes.
She has conducted research in such areas as breast cancer risk
reduction, suicide prevention and improving nutritional practices among
adolescent mothers. A researcher with the Breast Cancer and the
Environment Research Program, she studies the use of communication
science to educate girls, parents and pediatric health care providers.
Joining the UD faculty this semester is John Crowley, assistant
professor of communication, whose research investigates the intersection
between interpersonal and health communication. He studies the
relationship between communication and physiology — the way our bodies
affect our communication and the way our communication affects our
Crowley’s research also focuses on health-related outcomes associated
with discriminatory messages such as hate speech, and he attempts to
develop interventions to reduce harmful health effects associated with
Next fall, another new faculty member will join UD as an assistant
professor of communication. Morgan Ellithorpe conducts research in the
area of media psychology, focusing on media effects on health and health
disparities, and has been supported by the National Institutes of
She is part of Bleakley’s research team on the study of adolescents’ attitudes toward sports drinks.
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published Oct. 16, 2019