Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Coverage of Health Stories in Canadian Media: SFU Research

Canadian newspapers consistently miss the real stories about health issues and dwell on covering the more simplistic and sensational stories. That is the conclusion of a new five-year study conducted by six researchers connected to Simon Fraser University. This is the first Canadian long-range analysis of media coverage of health issues.

The international journal, Social Science & Medicine, has published the findings of the study, "Telling stories: News media, health literacy and public policy in Canada," in its May 2007 issue. The authors are SFU professors Michael Hayes in health sciences (lead investigator) and Ian Ross, Bob Hackett and Donald Gutstein in the School of Communication. SFU alumni James Dunn and Mike Gasher were the other collaborators.

The researchers analysed 4,732 health-related stories in 13 daily newspapers across Canada between 1993 and 2001. They found that 65 percent of health news focused on service, delivery, management and regulation issues. Only 5.9 percent dealt with socio-economic factors and even less, 1.5 percent, dealt specifically with child development concerns.

Hayes says the results show that newspapers are either not in tune with or choose not to cover the overwhelming impact of socio-economic factors—such as income, education and social violence—on public health. Hayes and his colleagues point out that government white papers, published in 1975 (Lalonde report), 1986 (Epp report) and 1999 (Toward a Health Future), show that socio-economic factors largely determine an individual’s health.

The researchers note that, rather than analyzing the correlation between socio-economic factors and health problems, newspapers focus on health news of the day, such as long patient waitlists and rising health care costs. These attention-grabbing health care problems, say the researchers, are often the result of governments’ inability to address the correlation between socio-economic factors and health.

More information about the research is available at: