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Fostering Critical Thinking Skills for Consumer Health Decisions Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-COH0004
Submitted by: Brian F. Geiger, EdD
School/University/Affiliation: University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education Date: September 2, 1997

Grade Level(s): 9, 10, 11, 12


  • Health/Consumer Health

Duration: Two class sessions


This simple classroom activity can be used to develop consumer health skills among secondary school students. Students select sample advertisements for health products from the print and broadcast media.  Peers cooperate to identify the health information and evaluate intended messages.  Students present their conclusions orally to their peers, including suggestions to change the ads to help consumers to make informed purchase decisions.  This lesson should be used as one component of a unit on consumer health education.

Background Information for the Teacher:

This lesson was field tested during personal health classes with more than 250 undergraduate students during the academic years 1993-96 at a southeastern urban state university. Combining didactic presentation of health information with student exercises enriched health education instruction. The lesson was useful to encourage class participation by all students, particularly those who had been reluctant to join previous class discussions.


The purpose of the consumer health activity is to teach students basic criteria for evaluating advertisements for health-related products in commercial media. This lesson is compatible with the National Health Education Standards (JCNHES, 1995).

Standard 2 is students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information and health-promoting products and services.
Standard 4 is students will analyze the influence of culture, media, technology, and other factors on health.


Students will:

1. correctly identify target audiences and intended uses of health-related products from manufacturers’ advertisements;
2. distinguish false from accurate information in selected print and broadcast advertisements;
3. determine information about product ingredients from ad content;
4. describe methods of product enhancement used in print and broadcast ads, e.g., food styling; and
5. suggest improvements to increase the amount of accurate health information in ads.


  • printed advertisements for health products taken from magazines and newspapers
  • videotaped television ads
  • TV/VCR
  • personal health text or other assigned reading on consumer health
  • Questions to Evaluate Consumer Health Advertisements student worksheet
  • chalkboard
  • Procedure:

    1. Assign a chapter on consumer health for students to read prior to evaluating advertisements.
    2. Write on the chalkboard the words, buyer, seller, product, service, needs, emotions, and transaction.
    3. Use previously recorded videotaped television ads featuring health-related products to explain simple marketing concepts including exchange of money to receive a health care product or service. Videotape ads for products that teens would be likely to purchase and those that can cause health problems including OTC medications, alcohol, and beverages with caffeine.
    4. Present psychological approaches used to increase sales of health products, i.e., heighten emotions, satisfy present needs, promise quick results.
    5. Describe the concept of selling new products by creating desires (perceived needs).
    6. Invite students to bring to the next class session ads they have selected from print media featuring health products (e.g., aspirin, foods, weight loss products, exercise equipment, nutritional supplements).
    7. Encourage students to work together with peers or adults to review a variety of publications, e.g., local newspaper, Jet, Teen Magazine, Tiger Beat, Glamour, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated.
    8. Ask students to label each ad with the name of the source publication and date.

    Next class session

    1. During the next class session, divide the class into small groups of five-six students.
    2. Encourage students to discuss their opinions and ideas within the small groups.
    3. Establish ground rules for the small group work:

    • each person participates
    • take turns talking
    • respect each other’s beliefs and opinions without criticism

    4. Students will select two group members to act as the facilitator and recorder.
    5. Review the 13 questions on the student worksheet, Questions to Evaluate Consumer Health Advertisements.
    6. Each group will select an ad for a health product to evaluate and answer the following questions:

    Student Worksheet
    Questions to Evaluate Consumer Health Advertisements
    1.  What is the product being sold? 
    2. What is the purpose of the ad?
    3. Who should buy this product?
    4. What psychological approach is used to increase sales of this product, i.e., heighten emotions like fear or love, satisfy present needs, promise quick cure or results, create a need or desire?
    5. How reliable is the source of the ad for health information?
    6. Which statements about the product are true?
    7. What important information is missing?
    8. What are the product ingredients?
    9. What are the health benefits of the product, if any?
    10. Are there any negative or side effects for consumers to consider?
    11. What is the credibility of the product manufacturer?
    12. How were the product’s features enhanced to improve its appeal to you (e.g., use of an attractive spokesperson or athlete, make-up, food styling, special photographic techniques)?
    13. How would you change the advertisement to benefit consumers?


  • Students will demonstrate their consumer health knowledge during group work to complete the exercise.
  • Invite group facilitators to take turns presenting aloud their answers to the worksheet questions for different ads.
  • Facilitate the class discussion about the content and format of ads for health products.
  • Useful Resources:
    * Joint Committee on the National Health Education Standards. 1995.
    * National Health Education Standards. Atlanta, GA:  American Cancer Society.