Objectives: To assess American newspaper coverage regarding racial and ethnic minority health disparities (MHDs).
Methods: LexisNexis was queried with specific word combinations to elicit all MHD articles printed in 257 newspapers from 2000-2004. The full texts were read and articles categorized by racial/ethnic group and specific MHD topics mentioned.
Results: In the five years from 2000-2004, 1188 MHD articles were published, representing 0.09% of all articles about health. Newspapers gave much attention to MHD when discussed in conferences and meetings and speeches by senior health officials and politicians. Cancer, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS were most frequent among disease-specific mentions. Articles about African Americans comprised 60.4% of all race/ethnicity-mentioning articles.
Conclusions: Despite the release of major organizational reports and the publication of many studies confirming the prevalence of MHD, few newspaper articles have been published explaining MHD to the public. Because of the general public's low rate of health literacy, the health world should collaborate with the media to present a consistent, simple message concerning gaps in care experienced by all racial/ethnic minority groups. In a time of consumer-directed healthcare, if Americans understand that MHDs exist, they may galvanize to advocate for disparity elimination and quality improvement.