Research: Local television encourages fatalistic view of cancer

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for Miller-McCune magazine, Tom Jacobs puts together the results of two studies that conclude local television teaches viewers over-the-top cancer fatalism with their “Pretty much everything causes cancer, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” approach.

Jacobs found that “This belief, which can lead to health-threatening behaviors, seems to infect both well-educated and less-educated viewers.” Furthermore, researchers have found that local news viewing correlates with an increase in cancer fatalism a year down the road.

These findings applied specifically to local TV, and the same effect was not seen with national broadcasts or, researchers observed, with newspapers.

“Local TV news stories were more likely than newspaper stories to focus on and discuss causes of cancer, more likely to discuss scientific research findings, and less likely to include information that would allow viewers to follow up by seeking out additional resources, guidance or advice regarding the coverage they watched,” they write.

The increased fatalism brought on by the local TV approach is serious business, because it can influence real-world behavior.

… when it comes to cancer, beliefs matter. A 2007 study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention reported that “Americans who hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention may be at greater risk of cancer because they are less likely to engage in various prevention behaviors,” including getting screened for cancer, eating fruits and vegetables, and exercising regularly.

The researchers concluded that “Researchers and public health officials might consider conducting educational or training sessions with local TV journalists.” Covering Health thinks tapping into AHCJ’s resources and training aimed at journalists would certainly help!

2 thoughts on “Research: Local television encourages fatalistic view of cancer

  1. Elaine Schattner, M.D.

    Easy to be critical of cancer coverage on TV, which is indeed problematic. But I’m wondering about some readers in this virtual space – including leaders in health care journalism – and how we cover preventive medicine in general and mammography in particular.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Research: Local television encourages fatalistic view of cancer : Covering Health -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply