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.
KeywordsCancer Eastern equine encephalitis Health communication Mass media Risk perception
Dr. Viswanath acknowledges the support of the Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer Center (DFHCC), the Tobacco Research Network on Disparities (TReND), and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for providing funding for the public opinion survey. The authors would like to thank Howard Koh for comments provided on an earlier draft of the manuscript and Jaclyn Alexander-Molloy for assistance with data extraction and coding.
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