Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: From 2011-2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Community Health (DCH) funded state and local governments, tribes, territories, and nonprofit organizations to reduce the burden of chronic disease and achieve health equity. Awardees implemented a variety of strategies, including the use of earned news media strategies. This analysis focused on print newspaper, radio, and television (TV) news content over a two-year period. Evaluation questions looked at 1) the volume of overweight/obesity-related news items and 2) how overweight/obesity was discussed in the media of DCH-funded communities. While other obesity-related content analyses exist, our approach is unique in examining multiple local media channels, particularly with respect to local television and radio coverage.
Methods: Standard content analysis methodology was employed to retrieve, examine, and characterize articles and transcripts within the media markets of DCH-funded communities. A search-string related to overweight and obesity was created for searching news story databases. Items retrieved comprised print newspaper articles from the Nexis database, and TV and radio news transcripts from the News Data Service database. We examined newspaper articles (n=1,831) and a sample of TV transcripts (n=2,513) from June 2011 through May 2013. The sample of radio transcripts (n=572) covered December 2012 through May 2013 due to the limited availability of radio transcripts. A structured coding instrument captured the content of each article or transcript. Initial coding included the news outlet, date/time, length of items, and primary focus. Items determined to be primarily about overweight/obesity were further coded for populations discussed, mentions of health and economic consequences, tone, causes and solutions to overweight/obesity, and organizations mentioned.
Results: Overweight/obesity was the primary focus for 1,139 newspaper articles (62%), 1,839 TV transcripts (73%), and 388 radio transcripts (68%) identified through the search-string. The remaining articles or transcripts only mentioned the topic or were considered off-topic. For all items reviewed with a primary focus on overweight/obesity, children were discussed more frequently (newspaper=70%; radio=47%; TV=50%), and obesity was described more as an “epidemic” (newspaper= 43%; radio=24%; TV=13%) than being “preventable” (newspaper= 10%; radio=2%; TV=10%). Nearly all items (newspaper=95%; radio=87%; TV=98%) were presented from a neutral or positive perspective with respect to obesity control strategies. Across all items, individual causes of overweight/obesity were mentioned more frequently (newspaper= 51%; radio=31%; TV=20%) than environmental causes (newspaper= 32%; radio=13%; TV=6%); however, individual and environmental solutions were discussed with similar frequency.
Conclusions: Overweight/obesity was a consistent topic across the 24-months examined. The tone of coverage was found to be neutral to positive in nature, indicating a generally objective media environment. Coverage focused largely on children; there was less discussion of other high-burden populations. The preventable nature and environmental causes of obesity are important areas for further work.
Implications for research and/or practice: Future earned media and messaging across media channels might: 1) focus on children for uptake; 2) introduce discussion of other high-burden populations; 3) emphasize individual and environmental causes of overweight/obesity, as well as solutions; and 4) include messages about overweight/obesity prevention.