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January 1996

Content Analysis of Prime-time Television Medical News: A Pediatric Perspective

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pediatrics, State University of New York at Buffalo (Drs Duffy and Stapleton). Dr Prabhu is in private practice in Woodruff, SC.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150(1):46-49. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170260050008

Objectives:  To assess child health news broadcasts by a major regional television station and to evaluate the attitudes of parents and pediatricians about the content and value of television news reports.

Design:  Videotaping 6 months of consecutive evening news telecasts (Monday through Friday). Self-administered surveys given to a convenience sample of parents and mailed to community pediatricians.

Setting:  Local and national newscasts of prime-time coverage by a major metropolitan television station.

Participants:  One hundred forty-four members of the Buffalo (NY) Pediatric Society and 87 parents of children in the outpatient or inpatient departments of The Children's Hospital, Buffalo.

Results:  Pediatric issues were presented in 15% of local and 21% of national medical news stories. Adult-specific issues were addressed in 48% of local and 33% of national medical news reports. Local pediatric news reports focused on behavior (22%) and major illnesses (22%); national pediatric news concentrated on nutrition (30%), allergy (21%), and major illnesses (21%). Seventy percent of local and 85% of national pediatric news reports referenced an informative source. Fifty-one (59%) of the 87 parents and 69 (48%) of the 144 pediatricians consider television news to be an effective means of increasing awareness of child health issues. Parents and physicians recommended pediatric emergencies, safety, disease prevention, and adolescent issues as important areas of emphasis for television news. Fifty-one percent of the parents (44) and 48% of the pediatricians (69) believed that television reports increase knowledge of how to access local health resources.

Conclusions:  Television news reports are important sources of child health information. Pediatric topics on local and national news programs often do not focus on topics considered of highest priority by parents and pediatricians. Greater awareness by pediatricians of the potential value of television news as a tool for public health education is warranted.(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150:46-49)