, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 409-416
Date: 30 Mar 2010

Media Attention and Public Perceptions of Cancer and Eastern Equine Encephalitis

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Previous research has found that members of the public have a skewed sense of health risk. The purpose of this research was to investigate how mass media use influences perceptions of threat from cancer and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). Investigators performed a media content analysis of 253 health-related articles from 11 Massachusetts newspapers, then used logistic regression to analyze responses to a health communication survey of 613 Massachusetts adults. A greater proportion of cancer articles compared to those about EEE mentioned progress in combating the disease (61.0% vs. 16.2%, P < 0.0001), while a greater proportion of EEE articles mentioned new incidents of illness (35.4%, vs. 4.6% P < 0.0001). Over half of all respondents perceived EEE as an equal or greater threat than cancer. Paying a lot of attention to health media was related to higher odds of perceiving EEE as a threat (OR 2.14; 95% CI 1.03–4.45), and of perceiving EEE as a threat compared to cancer (OR 2.18; 95% CI 1.24–3.84). Media treatment of health stories that emphasize the novelty and unpredictability of EEE compared to cancer may lead to distorted perceptions of threat among news consumers.