BOSTON - The next time you’re ready to download that song from iTunes, you may want to check out how healthy it is for you. Just as a nutritional label allows you to count the calories in a fast food hamburger, the Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong Initiative has made it easier to measure what’s in the songs you listen to. Today, the Initiative announced the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label, a new tool to help music lovers evaluate how healthy – or unhealthy – songs are.
“Music, like food, can feed our brains and give us energy,” said Casey Corcoran, director of the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative. “But songs can affect our health and the health of our relationships.”
The tool, patterned after common food nutritional labels, invites consumers to become song lyric nutritionists by helping them identify relationship ingredients that make up a song. Using printed song lyrics as a guide, users can tally the number of healthy relationship themes, such as respect, equality, and trust, which are present in the song. And, like fattening calories, unhealthy relationship themes – possession, disrespect, and manipulation – are also counted. The number of times these themes are mentioned also factor into to the song’s total nutritional value. Corcoran recommends consuming lots of ‘healthy relationship’ ingredients for a balanced media diet.
The model was developed by 14 peer leaders in the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative. The teens, who range in age from 15 to 19 years old, attended a seven-week "Healthy Relationship Institute” where they were trained in teen dating violence prevention and healthy relationship promotion. They also learned to look at media critically, breaking it down to better understand the healthy or unhealthy relationship messages it may contain, such as power, control, equality, and gender roles.
“It’s important to have youth involved in this effort because teenagers are the main audience of the music,” said peer leader Shaquilla Terry, age 15 of Boston. “It’s important to actually listen to and think about the lyrics of a song and not just the beat.”
On average, American youth listen to music from 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP). The AAP found that listening to explicit music lyrics – with references to drugs, sex, or violence - can affect schoolwork, social interactions, and produce significant changes in mood and behavior.
“By encouraging young people to employ the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label, parents and educators can begin a dialogue about how romantic relationships are portrayed in songs—and how those portrayals might shape their ideas about what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy,” said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. “I hope that using this tool will help adolescents become more aware of the messages they are receiving, (help them) begin to make healthier, more self-respecting media choices, and tune in to their music—in more ways than one.”
The new tool is being unveiled as the Recording Academy is poised to announce its annual Grammy nominations later this week. Using the Sound Relationships label, peer leaders released their own musical nods - top ten lists of songs with unhealthy and healthy relationship themes. The teens analyzed
songs from the Billboard "Hot 100" chart, a record of the top 100 songs purchased, played on the radio, streamed online across all music genres. Topping the list of unhealthy songs is Break Up, featuring Gucci Mane and Sean Garrett. Lady Gaga, one of the biggest breakout artists of 2009, had two songs on the unhealthy list: Paparazzi and Bad Romance.
“We aren't telling people what they should or should not be listening to,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Commission’s executive director. “We are giving them a tool that will help them make an informed choice about what they put in their bodies.”
In addition to the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label, the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative will also release a lesson plan for educators. Last spring, the Initiative’s informal teen poll on reactions to the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident ignited a larger discussion about healthy relationship and dating violence.
“We hope this is the start of a conversation about how the media we consume affects our relationship health,” Ferrer said.
For more information about the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative, and to download a copy of the Sound Relationships Nutritional Label and Top Ten Lists, visit www.bphc.org or call (617) 534-2687.
- BPHC -
Sound Relationships Nutritional Label
Top Ten Lists