Parents want explanations, not scare tactics, from the media about children's health

March 14, 2011 Volume 12 Issue 2
  • Only half of parents think media reports do a good job explaining how research affects their children.
  • Commonly, parents complain that media reports about children’s health are  contradictory, scary and hard to understand.
  • Parents believe that health websites are most accurate among media sources, but TV reaches them first with new information.

Each year, billions of public and private dollars are spent on medical research about child health topics.  When research studies are completed, results need to reach the people most responsible for keeping children healthy – parents.  Information about research results is often spread throughout the media.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents for their opinions about how well the different media sources communicate results of child health research.

Media Coverage

Among this national sample of parents:

  • Over 77% of parents like having a medical expert explain what the research means for their children.
  • 72% think media reports help parents know how to keep their children healthy.  

However:

  • Only 51% of parents think media reports do a good job explaining how medical research may affect their children.  

Chief Complaints

Parents had several criticisms of the way child health research is conveyed in the media:

  • 82% think research results are contradictory – first they say one thing, then another.
  • 60% believe media reports scare parents unnecessarily.
  • 50% say health research reports are hard to understand.

Which Media Source is Best?

Parents disagreed about which media source does the best job in communicating child health information that is accurate, easy to understand, timely, and supported with expert opinions.  About half of parents believe that health websites do the best job overall while 29% rate TV as the best overall source (Table 1)

Implications

Each day, parents are bombarded with media reports about the latest research findings – from new medicines to environmental hazards, and from rare diseases to the common cold. This report indicates that most parents understand that media reports about medical research CAN help them know how to keep their children healthy—but, many struggle to understand information they find confusing, contradictory and sometimes scary. 

When looking for child health information that is accurate, understandable, and timely, a key finding of this poll is that parents look to medical experts to cut through the confusion and translate what research findings mean for their children. Whether parents seek health websites or come across a TV or newspaper report on child health research, effective media reports guide parents in understanding what research results mean in the real world.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey   conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in August-September 2011 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 with children age 17 and under (n=1,621) from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 60% among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 5 percentage points.

Findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.  The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material. 

Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

Each year, millions of federal dollars are used to support medical research. When research studies are completed, there often are reports of the “findings” (results of the research) in the media, such as TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, and websites. People have different reasons for why they may or may not pay attention to media reports about medical research.  

Q1. Please give your opinion on the following statements:
Select one response in each row.

  Strongly disagree Disagree Agree Strongly agree
Medical research is hard to understand.        
Research results are contradictory---first they say one thing, then they say another.        
I like having a medical expert explain what the research means for my child.        

Q2. Please provide your opinions about how well the media (TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, health websites) covers medical research on children’s health.
Select one response in each row.

  Strongly disagree Disagree Agree Strongly agree
Generally, media reports do a good job explaining how medical research might affect my child.        
Media reports about medical research scare parents unnecessarily.        
Media reports about medical research help parents know how to keep their children healthy.         

Q3. Select the media source you think is BEST in terms of reporting on medical research on children’s health:
Select one response in each row.

  TV Newspapers* (print or online) Magazines* Radio* Medical or Health Websites Blogs*
Information that is accurate            
Information that I can understand            
Expert opinions to help explain what things mean            
The first to reach me with new results            
Best overall            

* For analysis, these categories were combined and described as ‘other’.

Participants were also asked demographic questions on gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income, education and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH
 

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Explanations from Media About Children’s Health