News media are an important and influential part of the social environment, calling attention to certain issues by the amount and nature of their coverage. To better understand how health behaviors are covered, we examined more than 80,000 stories in 1,354 newspaper issues from four midsize Missouri communities. Health behavior stories were rare. Of 1,373 stories (1.7%) that addressed diet, physical activity, or tobacco, few were prominently located in the paper, and only half had a primary prevention focus. A large majority had no local angle, local quotes, or call to action for individuals or the community, and only 10% were generated by local reporters. Because the local newspaper can be especially influential in smaller communities, strategies are needed to help reporters and editors in these settings provide more and better coverage of health behavior-related stories.
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