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TV News Offers Fuzzy Picture on Health

Most local reports left out important information, study found

WEDNESDAY, March 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Local TV newscasts across the United States present lots of medical stories and health information, but don't always do it well, new research suggests.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison concluded that there's room for improvement by both TV stations and health experts who appear in medical/health-related news stories.

Over a one-month period, health and medical stories comprised 11 percent of the news portion of late-evening newscasts. There were 1,799 medical and health stories carried on 2,795 news broadcasts aired on 122 stations in the top 50 media markets in the United States, the study said.

The average medical/health story was 33 seconds long. Most of the stories did not provide specifics about the source of information for the report. The study also found that stories about specific diseases often failed to offer viewers recommendations or information about the prevalence of the disease -- something that could help viewers put the item into perspective with other health issues.

The study, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Managed Care, also found errors that could lead to serious consequences.

For example, several stations aired items on lemon juice's effect on sperm and speculated on, or presented as fact, the use of lemon as a contraceptive and it's potential to prevent sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Nearly all the stories failed to mention that this was a laboratory study that had not involved humans. One story misinterpreted the research altogether and reported that lemon juice may be a substitute for "costly" HIV medications.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about medical and health news.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, March 8, 2006
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