OBJECTIVE: The news media are an important source of dietary information. Understanding news content, particularly the portrayal of risks and benefits of certain foods, is relevant for effective public health communication. Fish consumption may reduce risk for CVD and aid neonatal development, but recent work shows public confusion about the benefits of fish, challenged by the evidence of mercury and other contaminants in fish. We present an analysis of the messages about fish in US news media over 15 years, identifying trends in coverage and highlighting implications of current messaging. DESIGN: We conducted a descriptive text analysis and coded for manifest content: locality of focus, story frame, reference to studies, inclusion of government guidelines and portrayal of uncertainty. We identified chronological patterns and analysed the data for statistically significant relationships between media source and content. SETTING: News stories were selected from five daily newspapers and five television networks (1993-2007). SUBJECTS: We analysed 310 health-related news stories on fish. RESULTS: Risk messages outweighed benefit messages four to one, and health benefits only became prominent after 2002. No difference existed in coverage topic by news source. Fish consumption has increasingly become a national issue. CONCLUSIONS: With the bulk of messages about fish consumption focused on risk, the benefits may be lost to consumers. This gap creates a need for public health to work with news media to more effectively communicate benefits and risks around fish consumption and health and to consider options for communicating tailored information where it can be more readily utilised.
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