March 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 3

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Sociology Research Makes Headlines

Daniel Fowler, ASA Public Affairs and Public Information Department

While the percentage of obese children in the United States tripled between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, a study in the January 2012 issue of Sociology of Education suggests that—at least for middle school students—weight gain has nothing to do with the candy, soda, chips, and other junk food they can purchase at school.

“We were really surprised by that result and, in fact, we held back from publishing our study for roughly two years because we kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there,” said Pennsylvania State University’s Jennifer Van Hook, the lead author of the study, which, according to a Google News search, was the subject of more than 120 popular media articles.

The article, “Competitive Food Sales in Schools and Childhood Obesity: A Longitudinal Study,” by Van Hook and her Penn State colleague Claire E. Altman was just one of the many studies the American Sociological Association’s Public Affairs and Public Information (PA/PI) Department publicized during the highly successful post-2011 Annual Meeting.

"Generating media coverage is
an important way we as sociologists
can share our valuable research
with the world.”

— Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive Officer

From September 2011 through February 2012, the ASA Public Information Office oversaw the production and distribution of 17 press releases/media advisories and responded to scores of media inquiries. As a result of these and other efforts, hundreds of news articles, blog posts, and radio shows mentioned ASA, its journals, and/or its members.

“Generating media coverage is an important way we as sociologists can share our valuable research with the world,” said Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association. “In that light, our Public Affairs and Public Information (PA/PI) Department works to publicize peer-reviewed studies from ASA journals and to connect sociologists with reporters for their stories. These and other efforts by the department help ensure that sociological scholarship reaches audiences outside the discipline and contributes to the public debate.”

Just some of the major American media outlets that covered the Van Hook/Altman study include the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, the San Francisco Chronicle, FoxNews.com, Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, the Houston Chronicle, Slate, Yahoo!News, and ABCNews.com.

The study also received significant media coverage internationally. Articles about the study appeared in a number of international media outlets including Canada’s Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun, London Free Press, Toronto Star, and Global News; India’s Hindustan and Times of India; and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail.

“I couldn’t have been more delighted to see the response to Van Hook and Altman’s article, everywhere from The Times of India to The Wall Street Journal as well as The Village Voice and Discovery News,” said Sociology of Education Editor David B. Bills. “But, I can’t say I was surprised by the reception. I think the paper resonated because the findings were something of a surprise, but it was immediately obvious that the research was credible and rigorous. This was high-quality sociology being brought to bear on a real social problem.”

Multitasking and Gender

Another big hit with the media was a December 2011 American Sociological Review study by Shira Offer, Bar-Ilan University, and Barbara Schneider, Michigan State University. Their study found that not only are working mothers multitasking more frequently than working fathers, but their multitasking experience leads to more negative feelings as well.

“Gender differences in multitasking are not only a matter of quantity but, more importantly, quality,” said Offer, the lead author of the study. “Our findings provide support for the popular notion that women are the ultimate multitaskers and suggest that the emotional experience of multitasking is very different for mothers and fathers.”

According to a Google News search, there were more than 200 articles about this study. U.S. media outlets that published stories on the study include the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Sacramento Bee, The Seattle Times, MSNBC.com, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, TIME.com, CBSNews.com, and NPR.com. NPR also ran a radio piece about the study on its “Morning Edition” program.  In addition, numerous international media outlets including Canada’s Globe and Mail, Calgary Sun, Toronto Sun, Vancouver Sun, and Toronto Star and the the United Kingdom’s Telegraph and Daily Mail published articles about the study.

“All in all, I was very surprised by the amount of interest that the study sparked,” Offer said. “I knew that multitasking was a hot issue, which has recently gained much attention in the media, but I didn’t expect the article to create so much interest worldwide. I received emails and phone calls from reporters in Italy, the Netherlands, the U.S., and Israel, and the article was mentioned in many other countries. I think that this is because the article speaks to an issue that is relevant to many parents, regardless of where they live.”

But Wait, There’s More

A sample of other popular studies that PA/PI publicized during the past six months includes an October 2011 American Sociological Review study by Derek A. Kreager, Pennsylvania State University, and Dana L. Haynie, Ohio State University, which found that adolescents are particularly susceptible to the drinking habits of their romantic partner’s friends. An October 2011 American Sociological Review study by Erin Cech, Stanford University, Brian Rubineau, Cornell University, Susan Silbey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Carroll Seron, University of California-Irvine, which found that  women are not becoming engineers partly due to confidence issues. A December 2011 Journal of Health and Social Behavior study by Erin Kelly, Phyllis Moen, and Qinlei Huang, all of University of Minnesota, and Eric Tranby, of University of Delaware, which suggested that flexible workplaces promote better health behavior and well-being was another popular study within the media.  

A sample of some of the other media outlets that published articles mentioning ASA, its journals, and/or its members during the past six months include Science News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, United Press International, the Star Tribune, MyHealthNewsDaily, Jezebel, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Tennessean, Reuters, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, U.S News and World Report, LiveScience, CNN.com, Health.com, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Sun-Sentinel, iVillage.com, LA Weekly, the Herald News, Education Week, the Tucson Citizen, MSN Health and Fitness, the Bangor Daily News, and California Watch.

“While we are pleased with the amount of media coverage that ASA, its journals, and its member have received, we are working hard to develop innovative ways to bring sociological research to even more people,” said PA/PI Director Brad Smith. 

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