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Media Coverage of Obesity Outweighs Smoking Cessation Stories

Armen Hareyan's picture

Dangers of Smoking

Obesity is grabbing more headlines, but not necessarily crowding out media coverage of the dangers of tobacco use, according to a new study sponsored by a drug company. However obesity made more news while tobacco got less attention, based on an analysis of eight years of medical stories in the media.

"It seems clear to us that there were shifts in coverage," said lead study author Saul Shiffman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Using databases, Shiffman and colleagues gauged how often major media outlets published or aired stories about obesity and tobacco. They report their findings in the July-August issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

The authors found no correlation existed between the number of stories about the topics. "It's not that when one goes up, the other goes down," Shiffman said. But the number of stories about tobacco did drop over time after a peak in 1996-1997, with the average number of monthly broadcast stories falling by 85 percent from 1995 to 2003. Meanwhile, obesity stories steadily grew in number between 1995, the earliest year in the study, and 2003.

"It's a shame that we would take our eye off the ball on tobacco when that is such an important issue," Shiffman said. "There is