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General Health Channel
Reported March 9, 2006

Problematic Health Stories on Local TV Newscasts

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- As the majority of Americans get most of their news from local television newscasts, a new concern arises on the coverage of health information.

The first-ever national study finds many problems with the medical stories that air on local TV news stations and says both the stations and health experts can improve the situation.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed health coverage on local TV newscasts from 122 stations across the country in October 2002. During that time, 1,799 stories aired on 2,795 broadcasts. The average story was 33 seconds long.

Results show most stories did not give specifics about the source of the information presented. They also found stories about specific diseases usually did not have recommendations for viewers or information about how common the disease was. Study authors say most disturbing were the egregious errors in a small portion of the studies that could have led to serious consequences.

Investigators, however, don't blame just the newscast producers and reporters for the problems. They say health experts need to be able to better work with journalists and also help them put health issues into perspective.

"The fact that one of the most-covered stories in the study was about the removal of warts using duct tape, a topic which has questionable public health value, and that the story originated in a press release from a renowned medical journal, shows that we in the community have work to do," says lead author James Pribble, M.D., a lecturer in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Researchers are now studying how local news covered health in 2004. They are also looking at the coverage of health issues on local Spanish-language television.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: /newsalert/.

SOURCE: American Journal of Managed Care, 2006;12:170-176

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