Publication Abstract

Authors: Canales MK, Breslau ES, Nelson DE, Ballard-Barbash RR

Title: Did news reporters get it right? Translation of the 2002 hormone study findings.

Journal: Am J Prev Med 34(1):61-8

Date: 2008 Jan

Abstract: BACKGROUND: The news media play a critical role in communicating health information to the public. The unexpected findings in July 2002 about increased health risks associated with hormone therapy provided an opportunity to examine the process of translating scientific findings to reporters through communication intermediaries and appraise subsequent reporting in newspapers in the United States. METHODS: Using qualitative research software, a qualitative analysis was conducted in 2006 to consider four types of messages: (1) hormone therapy health risks outweighed benefits (balance); (2) adverse hormone therapy health outcomes (health risk); (3) positive hormone therapy health outcomes (benefit); and (4) risk level (magnitude). The print materials analyzed included the original 2002 Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) article and editorial; JAMA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) press releases; the NIH press conference transcript; and 198 articles about hormone therapy in 22 U.S. newspapers published from July to September 2002. RESULTS: The major study finding that hormone therapy risks outweighed benefits was reported consistently and accurately. Analyses of language and numbers on risk magnitude, and its interpretation revealed some variability, both within the translation materials and news stories. When risk numbers were included in newspaper stories, absolute risk was used more often than relative risk. CONCLUSIONS: Despite much criticism of journalists' coverage of health issues, U.S. newspaper reporting about hormone therapy in 2002 was generally consistent. Several translational and communication strategies used with hormone therapy may be applicable to other efforts that involve working with reporters on major health stories or events. An important process oversight was the absence of hormone therapy communication efforts and guidance directed specifically to medical practitioners.