Race, ethnicity, language, social class, and health communication inequalities: a nationally-representative cross-sectional study

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 18;6(1):e14550. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014550.


Background: While mass media communications can be an important source of health information, there are substantial social disparities in health knowledge that may be related to media use. The purpose of this study is to investigate how the use of cancer-related health communications is patterned by race, ethnicity, language, and social class.

Methodology/principal findings: In a nationally-representative cross-sectional telephone survey, 5,187 U.S. adults provided information about demographic characteristics, cancer information seeking, and attention to and trust in health information from television, radio, newspaper, magazines, and the Internet. Cancer information seeking was lowest among Spanish-speaking Hispanics (odds ratio: 0.42; 95% confidence interval: 0.28-0.63) compared to non-Hispanic whites. Spanish-speaking Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to pay attention to (odds ratio: 3.10; 95% confidence interval: 2.07-4.66) and trust (odds ratio: 2.61; 95% confidence interval: 1.53-4.47) health messages from the radio. Non-Hispanic blacks were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to pay attention to (odds ratio: 2.39; 95% confidence interval: 1.88-3.04) and trust (odds ratio: 2.16; 95% confidence interval: 1.61-2.90) health messages on television. Those who were college graduates tended to pay more attention to health information from newspapers (odds ratio: 1.98; 95% confidence interval: 1.42-2.75), magazines (odds ratio: 1.86; 95% confidence interval: 1.32-2.60), and the Internet (odds ratio: 4.74; 95% confidence interval: 2.70-8.31) and had less trust in cancer-related health information from television (odds ratio: 0.44; 95% confidence interval: 0.32-0.62) and radio (odds ratio: 0.54; 95% confidence interval: 0.34-0.86) compared to those who were not high school graduates.

Conclusions/significance: Health media use is patterned by race, ethnicity, language and social class. Providing greater access to and enhancing the quality of health media by taking into account factors associated with social determinants may contribute to addressing social disparities in health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Education
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Communication / methods*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Neoplasms*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Racial Groups
  • Social Class
  • United States