205871 News on fish: Public health implications of a media discourse ranging from ‘super food' to polluted waters

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 11:30 AM

Katherine Clegg Smith, PhD , Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Amelia Louise Greiner, MS , Department of Health Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
The news media play a central role in a key public health goal: providing the public with reliable information that facilitates healthy dietary decisions, . Given consumer desire for information on risks and benefits; those in public health stand to be more influential communicators if they both understand and shape news content on important issues such as healthy food sources.

News coverage of fish presents an interesting case study for public health: fish consumption reduces risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes and assists in neonatal development. Recently, mercury contamination from industrial pollution has emerged as an issue of concern and threatens public confidence in eating fish. Recent work has shown considerable public confusion over the risks and benefits of fish consumption. In this paper, highlight the range of messages, sources of confusion and opportunities for improving public health messaging.

Our findings result from the analysis of over 300 U.S. news stories on health and fish from 5 daily newspapers and 5 TV networks between 1993 and 2007. We coded for headline, expert perspectives, local or national focus, story frame (mercury risk or health benefits) and specific content such as government guidelines, scientific uncertainty, sources of mercury pollution and health benefits. In addition, we analyze presentation of fish guidelines, proposed policy remedies and attribution of blame.

Our analysis shows that coverage of fish consumption has swelled over time and differs by geographic region. Despite the many benefits of fish, coverage of health risks is more prominent than health benefits.

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss the complexity of media messaging around fish as a healthy or risky food 2. Evaluate whether current news coverage of fish contributes to public confusion around dietary decision making 3. Explain how and why media coverage of fish has differed over time and between geographic regions

Keywords: Food and Nutrition, Media Message

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have led the work being presented and have been working in the area of media coverage of health topics for the past several years
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.