Adverse outcomes associated with media exposure to contradictory nutrition messages

J Health Commun. 2014;19(1):24-40. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2013.798384. Epub 2013 Oct 11.


There is increasing concern that the media present conflicting health information on topics including cancer screening and nutrition. Although scholars have speculated that exposure to this information leads to increased public confusion, less trust in health recommendations, and less engagement in health behaviors, there is a lack of empirical research that directly addresses the role of media exposure to conflicting information. Using data from the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey, this study finds that exposure to conflicting information on the health benefits and risks of, for example, wine, fish, and coffee consumption is associated with confusion about what foods are best to eat and the belief that nutrition scientists keep changing their minds. There is evidence that these beliefs, in turn, may lead people to doubt nutrition and health recommendations more generally-including those that are not rife with contradictory information (e.g., fruit/vegetable consumption, exercise). The implications of these findings for healthy eating campaigns and interventions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Fruit
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Communication / standards*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Trust
  • United States
  • Vegetables