Thousands of young moviegoers in the Vancouver region were given a different type of activity to pass the time before the show – an interactive quiz, played on their smartphones, about sexually transmitted diseases.
The quizzes were part of an experiment run by Fraser Health Authority that used an existing app called TimePlay to encourage millennials to learn about their sexual health and get tested for infections. During the quiz, questions were broadcast on the theatre screen while participants answered questions on their phones.
Instead of asking users who starred in the Fast and the Furious movies, they were instead peppered with multiple-choice questions such as whether chlamydia is curable with antibiotics. (It is.)
Michelle Murti, a medical-health officer with Fraser Health who worked on the study, said the goal of the "Testing Is Healthy" campaign was to change young people's perception of STIs and how to treat them.
"There is still that stigma around going to get tested. People have a fear," Dr. Murti said. "Most people don't know that a significant proportion of STIs have no symptoms."
Dr. Murti and a team of researchers from British Columbia, Alberta and Boston targeted young adults aged 20 to 29, a vulnerable population for sexuality transmitted infections for whom cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia are three and five times higher than the provincial average. The quizzes appeared before all feature films rated 14A at Cineplex theatres in Langley, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey during four different time periods in 2014 and 2015. The results were published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health this month.
During the study, the quiz was seen by as many as 548,000 moviegoers, based on ticket sales, and the quiz was played about 77,000 times. The TimePlay app rewards participants with a chance to win free popcorn and drinks, as well as points that can be exchanged for concession items.
At the end of the quiz, users were presented with a link to a website run by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control called Smart Sex Resource, which had 600 visits. Traffic to a section of the site where visitors can find a clinic to get tested quadrupled.
Dr. Murti said the campaign was intended to get people talking.
"It's a strategy around how we can raise awareness around testing for STIs and HIV," she said.
"Our staff even went to the theatre and saw that some of the kids were shouting out answers at the screen," she said. "And after they're finished you can hear them laugh and joke about what they had just seen because it's not something that you normally see at the theatre."
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has reported an increase in cases of STIs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea. Statistics from 2015, the most recent available, indicate there were 14,245 people diagnosed with chlamydia – a figure that has been steadily climbing since the mid-1990s, when there were 4,000 to 5,000 new cases a year. Gonorrhea rates hit an all-time high in 2015, with more than 3,000 cases. For both, the highest rates are for young adults aged 20 to 29.
Dr. Murti said many people have no idea they are infected.
"For females and chlamydia, over 50 per cent of infections have no symptoms. For young men, they may have gonorrhea and over 50 per cent have no idea," she said. "They are at risk of passing it on, but also of future complications for themselves."
In chlamydia's case, the untreated infection can lead to reproductive scarring in women, and ultimately infertility.
"Some think it's very invasive or uncomfortable. It's just peeing in a cup."