Objectives: We examined how causes of and solutions to racial/ethnic health disparities are covered and framed in newspapers over time.
Methods: We used LexisNexis to identify articles on racial/ethnic health disparities published from 1996 through 2005 in 40 US newspapers. We coded articles for diseases and racial/ethnic groups mentioned; whether causes and solutions were framed as genetic, behavioral, health care, or societal responsibility; and whether a social-justice rationale for eliminating racial/ethnic health disparities was invoked.
Results: We identified 3823 racial/ethnic health disparity articles. Coverage peaked in 1998 and has declined since. Disparities in HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, and cancer generated the most coverage. Articles focused primarily on African Americans. Only 30% of articles provided causal or solution explanations, with academic researchers providing the most causal explanations and advocacy groups providing the most solutions. For both causes and solutions, behavioral explanations dominated the discourse, followed by societal, health care, and genetic explanations. Only 4% of articles invoked a social-justice rationale.
Conclusions: The dominance of behavioral explanations may limit public support for policy solutions to eliminate racial/ethnic health disparities. Future research should examine the design and dissemination of effective messages about the social determinants of health.