A decade of research on health content in the media: the focus on health challenges and sociocultural context and attendant informational and ideological problems

J Health Commun. 2006;11(1):43-59. doi: 10.1080/10810730500461067.


There is a burgeoning interest in the health and illness content of popular media in the domains of advertising, journalism, and entertainment. This article reviews the past 10 years of this research, describing the relationship between the health topics addressed in the research, the shifting focus of concerns about the media, and, ultimately, the variation in problems for health promotion. I suggest that research attending to topics related to bodily health challenges focused on whether popular media accurately or appropriately represented health challenges. The implication was that there is some consensus about more right or wrong, complete or incomplete ways of representing an issue; the problem was that the media are generally wrong. Alternatively, research addressing topics related to sociocultural context issues focused on how certain interests are privileged in the media. The implication was that competing groups are making claims on the system, but the problem was that popular media marginalizes certain interests. In short, popular media is not likely to facilitate understandings helpful to individuals coping with health challenges and is likely to perpetuate social and political power differentials with regard to health-related issues. I conclude by offering some possibilities for future health media content research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Forecasting
  • Health Promotion*
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Journalism, Medical
  • Mass Media*
  • Social Conditions