Study criticises health issues coverage

NHS bodies such as Primary Care Trusts need to improve the promotion of issues including smoking, obesity and alcoholism to avoid losing out to ‘more dramatic’ health news stories in terms of media coverage, according to a report.

According to a ‘deaths-per-story’ chart in the report, produced by The King’s Fund, during the period analysed, 8,571 people died from smoking for each story about smoking on BBC news programmes; by contrast, it only took 0.33 deaths from vCJD to merit a story on the BBC.

The King’s Fund acknowledged that such a chart is ‘crude’ but, nevertheless, the charitable health foundation is aiming to trigger debate over the fact that media coverage of health issues is slanted toward diseases that affect few people, such as vCJD, rather than issues that statistically have a far greater impact on health, such as smoking.

Following publication of the report – ‘Health in the News: Risk, reporting and media influence’ – a King’s Fund spokesperson said public health practitioners in organisations such as Primary Care Trusts ‘should ask themselves: “Are there stories there and how can they be used to improve the nation’s health?”’.

‘We need a better understanding among public health protagonists about how news is constructed. The study’s aim is not to prescribe change but to open up a debate,’ said the spokesperson.

The King’s Fund will stage a forum to discuss the report on 23 October.

A spokeswoman for anti-smoking group ASH said she ‘wouldn’t disagree’ with the report, adding: ‘The challenge for us is to present the latest evidence in an attractive way [for journalists]’.

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