Obesity has been a pressing problem among Americans in the last two decades. Research has shown that African Americans have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity, followed by Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites and Asians. Health journalists play a crucial role in providing news and information about obesity and all aspects of physical well-being. But there remains a question whether the news coverage, particularly about obesity, effectively and appropriately addresses the health information needs of culturally diverse populations.
Dianne Garyantesa of Rowan University and Priscilla Murphyb of Temple University studied the issue applying cultural competence, a concept involving the extent to which individuals and organizations develop the awareness, knowledge and skills necessary to understand and work effectively with people from cultures that differ from their own.
Researchers conducted a content analysis on the news coverage of two mainstream and two ethnic newspapers in Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, Al Día and The Philadelphia Tribune.
The authors found five themes associated with health news coverage: unhealthy lifestyle, food access and education, healthy lifestyle, public policy and research.
- Unhealthy lifestyle included stories about educating readers about multiple health problems—cardiovascular, diabetic, ophthalmic—associated with being overweight.
- Food access and education informed readers about the nutritional content of various foods. Stories also warned readers about the dangers of junk food and reported on the availability of healthy, nutritious foods.
- Healthy lifestyle included articles advising readers about overall healthy living, including healthy foods and exercise.
- Public policy included coverage of the former mayor’s unsuccessful attempt to impose a tax on sugary sodas.
- The news pieces relating to research included surveys and high-level medical attention to obesity-related health problems, including medical trials, tests, hospital care, and research.
Mainstream newspapers favored public policy solutions, while ethnic newspapers emphasized on self-efficacy.
Ethnic newspapers showed particular competence in certain areas, such as community-based sourcing, direct mention of groups at risk for obesity and lack of medical jargon. The Philadelphia Tribune, serving mainly African American audience, did not prioritize obesity as an important health issue. The metropolitan daily The Philadelphia Inquirer directly mentioned ethnic groups at risk for obesity less than expected.
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2OzzmNe
Garyantes, D. M., & Murphy, P. (2019). The Cultural Competence of Health Journalists: Obesity Coverage in Four Urban News Organizations. Health communication, 34(2), 191-200.