Fit for public consumption? An exploratory study of the reporting of nutrition research in UK tabloids with regard to its accuracy, and a preliminary investigation of public attitudes towards it

Public Health Nutr. 2008 Nov;11(11):1124-31. doi: 10.1017/S1368980007001565. Epub 2008 Jan 21.

Abstract

Objective: To explore the quality (accuracy, balance, practical context) of tabloid articles reporting on nutrition research, and public attitudes towards it.

Design: A qualitative multi-method study consisting of a systematic analysis of tabloid articles and a series of focus groups with members of the public.

Setting: Tabloid newspapers (nationwide). Focus groups were conducted at a UK university.

Subjects: All UK tabloid newspapers were collated for a full calendar month. Members of the local Women's Institute and non-teaching staff within the University College Chester were recruited as focus group participants.

Results: Twenty-nine tabloid articles were included. A standardised TAT (Tabloid Analysis Tool) was used a total of thirty-nine times (once for each research study cited). Twenty-six failed to accurately report research results, thirty-six failed to mention significant research limitations, and only five quoted a third-party expert source. Two focus groups, each with eight participants, were conducted. Attitudes expressed were largely negative, highlighting elements of confusion and scepticism. Articles were more likely to be disregarded than acted upon, although some value was attached to newspapers providing nutrition information.

Conclusions: Tabloid reporting on nutrition research is not sufficiently accurate, balanced or contextualised, and public attitudes towards the reporting are not wholly favourable. Guidance for journalists via registered dietitians and a strengthening of present links could serve to utilise this form of mass media more effectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media
  • Middle Aged
  • Newspapers as Topic
  • Nutritional Sciences / standards*
  • Periodicals as Topic / standards*
  • Public Health*
  • United Kingdom