Is it JUS Media? Creating a New Global Health Intervention to Combat U.S. Media Influences on Eating Habits in the Caribbean

By Gail M. Ferguson and Michelle R. Nelson 

The small island nation of Jamaica generally conjures up images of beaches, reggae, Usain Bolt. Also Pepsi and KFC? The spread of global media and brands, particularly those from the U.S., and their influence on the lifestyles and food choices of families in Jamaica, led us to create the J(amaican) US (U.S.) Media? Programme in collaboration with Julie Meeks, Professor of Child Development and Nutrition at the University of West Indies (UWI) Open Campus. The JUS Media Programme is a new food-focused media literacy intervention for Jamaican families, designed to teach youth and parents how to question the food messages in media and advertising, especially U.S. cable, to be smarter and healthier. 

Welcome to Kingston Pepsi sign Welcome to Kingston Pepsi sign on the Palisadoes strip leading from the Normal Manley International Airport into the city of Kingston, Jamaica.






JUS media logo

As a Jamaican-born Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Illinois, Dr. Ferguson has been researching the Americanization of teenagers and their parents in Jamaica for nearly a decade, and together with Prof. Meeks, she found in a recent study that Jamaicans on the island who feel more “American” in terms of their entertainment choices and identity also tend to watch more U.S. cable TV and eat more unhealthy food. So, Ferguson and Meeks teamed up with Dr. Nelson, an Associate Professor of Advertising at Illinois to create the JUS Media? Programme.


Ferguson, Meeks and NelsonL-R: Dr. Gail Ferguson (Principal Investigator, Illinois), Prof. Julie Meeks (Co-Investigator, UWI), & Dr. Michelle Nelson (Co-Principal Investigator, Illinois)




We launched our interdisciplinary collaborative work on the JUS Media? Programme in July, 2016 at UWI, funded by a grant from the Christopher Family Foundation. The UWI is nestled at the foothills of the mist-capped Jamaican Blue Mountains, where the world-famous “Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee” is grown, yet less than 10 miles away from Kingston Harbour, the 7th largest natural harbor in the world.

Sunset over KingstonSunset over Kingston and the Kingston Harbour from Long Mountain, our home base during our February, 2017 Kingston trip. 





We have been partnering with the Caribbean Child Development Center at UWI Open Campus, which has provided a lush and beautiful setting for our project team.

child development center

During our July, 2016 launch visit we drove through several areas of Kingston taking photos of food advertising (e.g., billboards, store fronts, stalls), visited local grocery stores to observe their food offerings and displays, watched TV from local Jamaican channels and U.S. cable channels available on the island, and we ate both local and U.S. style food popular in Kingston. 


Supermarket cereal aisle and bus stop in Kingston, Jamaica with U.S, brand foods. Look familiar?






traditional mealOxtail with rice and peas and fresh vegetables, a traditional Jamaican dinner meal.










Our ethnographic observations of the outdoor advertising landscape revealed evidence of local brands with local flavors and advertising that appeals as well as global brands using ‘glocal’ strategies, like the Pepsi JAMROCK billboard.


During that July, 2016 project launch trip, we also met with local advertisers and media scholars about the current media and advertising landscape in Jamaica. We learned that Nickelodeon and Lifetime are the most popular U.S. cable channels on the island, so our international research team set about simultaneously recording TV programming shown on a major local Jamaican channel as well as a popular U.S. cable channel during the same week. Our large team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants on this project are currently enjoying watching and coding food advertisements and product placement in the recorded footage from Jamaica and the US!

research assistantsResearch Assistants from the JUS Media? Programme and Dr. Ferguson’s Culture and Family Life Lab at Illinois during our February, 2017 social. Front Row L-R: Cibele Aguilar, Regina Ahn, Grace Brennan, Sydney Beck, Angie Park, Cagla Giray, Kyle Orentas. Back Row L-R: Connor Goetten, Kat Tian, Bridget Regan, and McKeznie Martin.



Funded by a larger grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health, we recently expanded our team in Jamaica to carry out an ambitious research study to test how effective our JUS Media? Programme can be for 7th graders and mothers there. We (Ferguson and Nelson) just returned from a 12-day trip to Kingston, Jamaica, where we led weekend sessions with nearly 100 Jamaican families at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus as part of this ongoing study.

ResearchersJUS Media? Programme Study Jamaica Research Team. L-R Front Row: Dr. Michelle Nelson (Co-investigator, Illinois), Prof. Julie Meeks (Co-Principal Investigator, UWI), Mrs. Euette Mundy-Parkes (Project Manager, UWI), and Dr. Gail Ferguson (Illinois, Principal Investigator, ILLINOIS). Back Row L-R: Arianne Anderson, Esther Mighty, Tashaine Morrison, Shanique Clarke, Rochelle Bryson, Jodi Sutherland, Gabrielle, Patricia Butler (Research Assistants from UWI and University of Technology, Jamaica). Not pictured – Jolene Morgan.




Given that the study is ongoing we can’t share many details at this point (if we told you we would have to kill you), but we can say that were amazed by the interest and energy of all the Jamaican students and mother who participated. On the final afternoon of our sessions at UWI, the rains came down. Not just a drizzle, but hard, slashing rain on the zinc roof. And then the rain cleared and the sun glistening off the colorful croton bushes littering the University of West Indies campus.


We left Jamaica knowing we started a conversation about food choices and global advertising. We thanked the families for coming and they thanked us right back. We will return this Fall to Jamaica, when we will bring the initial results of our study to various local stakeholders in schools, government, and non-profits sections, and offer to join them in their ongoing efforts to promote healthy eating in Jamaican families.

Of course, all work and no play make for dull and unhealthy researchers, so when in Kingston, we enjoy brisk walks around the UWI track where the fastest man alive, Jamaican Usian Bolt, sometimes trains.

teamL-R: Dr. Gail Ferguson (Principal Investigator, Illinois), Dr. Michelle Nelson (Co-Investigator, Illinois), & Ms. Arianne Anderson (Research Assistant, UWI)