News of disparity: content analysis of news coverage of African American healthcare inequalities in the USA, 1994-2004

Soc Sci Med. 2007 Aug;65(3):405-17. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.03.039. Epub 2007 May 7.


National survey data reveal that while public awareness of healthcare inequalities in the USA has increased, the public have become less supportive of federal responsibility to address healthcare inequalities. Agenda setting literature suggests that news coverage may have an impact on both public awareness of an issue and public support for government responsibility to address that issue, particularly in relation to racial inequalities. This research examines the prominence and content of news coverage on racial healthcare disparities in the USA between 1994 and 2004 in order to disentangle the messages that may affect public views of who should be responsible for reducing racial disparities. Even among those who are aware of healthcare disparities, these data show that support for federal responsibility has significantly decreased. Results show that the prominence of coverage of racial healthcare inequalities increased over the period. Journalists increasingly used academics, academic reports, experts, advocacy groups, and Republican politicians, as sources of information. Mentions of actors responsible for causing healthcare inequalities were mixed, with a plurality of stories describing no responsible causal agent. Further, we found that approximately half of the articles in almost every time period studied did not report actors who are working to ameliorate healthcare inequalities, nor did a majority of stories call on any actor to address disparities. As a political agenda to reduce racial healthcare inequalities advances, public support for federal government responsibility will be needed to develop sustainable public policy. This research helps us to understand the messages that the public may be receiving in order to motivate public will to support federal responsibility for reducing racial healthcare inequalities.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Awareness
  • Federal Government
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Newspapers as Topic / trends*
  • Politics
  • Public Opinion
  • Social Responsibility
  • United States