222918 Tracking beverage consumption trends in the news: An evaluation of beverage information on network television 2000-2008

Monday, November 8, 2010

Andrea Tanner, PhD , School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Christine Blake, PhD, RD , Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
James Thrasher, PhD, MS , Institute for Health Research & Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: The contribution of beverages to total energy has increased significantly in recent decades and many consumers are confused by contradictory messages about what they drink. The news media play a crucial role in communicating nutrition information with 63% of Americans reporting that television is their primary source of food and nutrition information. This study examined beverage-related messages on network television newscasts and evaluated how scientific uncertainty (i.e. inconsistent guidelines) is discussed in these media messages.

Methods: Transcripts of news stories from major television networks (e.g. ABC, CBS, NBC) from 2000-2008 that included a beverage focus were identified and obtained through the LexisNexis database. A random sample of selected transcripts was chosen for each year and coded for news focus, beverage type, scientific uncertainty, and expert sources (n=322).

Results: A majority of news stories were broadcast during morning programming (77%) and focused on milk (40%), calorically sweetened beverages (26%) or coffee (10%). Stories were most likely to be discussed in terms of health risks/benefits (31%) dietary choices (19%), nutritive content (16%) and marketing (14%). Nearly one in three (29%) discussed scientific uncertainty, most often in terms of inconsistent recommendations (37%), debate over “good” vs. “bad” beverages (33%) and confusion regarding how much to drink (28%). Source attribution was present in less than one-third of the news stories (30%). Of the stories that referenced an original source of information, it was most often another news outlet, for instance a magazine or Web site (30%), a research institution (23%), or a government source (17%).

Discussion: Beverage consumption messages on network television focus primarily on educating consumers. Conflicting or confusing recommendations are often discussed and a majority of news reports contain no attribution to information source. This session will provide important insights into how network news presents beverage related information and, in particular, how they deal with scientific uncertainty around this topic.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Communication and informatics
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss how beverage-related nutrition information is presented in mainstream media. 2. Compare how expert sources of beverage-related media messages are utilized, depending on the beverage discussed and nutrition focus of the news story. 3. Explain how nutrition confusion (i.e. inconsistent nutrition recommendations or unclear science) is presented in beverage consumption media messages. 4. Identify “best practices” for adequately presenting beverage consumption messages in the media.

Keywords: Communication Evaluation, Food and Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the primary author of this research and have 10 years of experience in mass communication and health communication research.
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.