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Media Management Of Women's Health

Consider the fact that the very media through which we are now communicating-the personal computer and the Internet-were not even available to the general public only 18 years ago.  While this technology boasts the phenomenal search engines and high speed information exchange capabilities which created the "information superhighway", it has also developed the "too much information highway".  And, like any highway, no matter how many lanes it has, traffic can be awful and create road rage, deadlock, or accidents. As a physician and a woman's health advocate, I wonder about how much media health information is tuned out simply because people are hearing too much; how much health information turns people away from a preferred action simply because it was perceived as too negative; or how much information causes such anxiety that people are simply too afraid to pursue it any further.  More importantly, I worry about how much of the health information in the media is actually correct.

The popular front page graph of USA Today recently reported that of all news stories in all media that adults say they follow "very closely", 43% cited health stories, the number one choice (beating out "Washington events/people" chosen by 41% in the midst of the "Naughtygate" scandal).  Yet the issue of health news confusion has become so intertwined with health news reporting that USA Today highlighted it a few weeks later in the same front page graph slot (2/23/99).  The same survey by Princeton Research Associates found that American adults say the following media stories are most confusing:  vitamins/supplements (52%), nutrition (50%), alternative health maintenance (41%), cancer (38%), alternative treatments for serious conditions (35%), heart disease (31%), elderly health issues (31%), alternative procedures (29%), and diabetes (20%).  This is disturbing because these areas represent the most common health issues:  the number one cause of death in women and men (heart disease); the number two cause of death in women and men as well as the number one feared condition in women (cancer); and the costly consumer areas of elder care and vitamins/alternative medicines (a multi-billion dollar, unregulated industry).  These issues should be those that media coverage clarifies, not clouds.

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 As a physician and a woman’s health advocate... I worry about how much of the health information in the media is actually correct. 

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