Reviews Press

News skews health priorities, study claims

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 18 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:688
  1. Trevor Jackson, assistant editor (
  1. BMJ

    How many people have to die from a disease or condition before it merits a news story on the BBC? The answer, says a new report published this week, is 0.33 people from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) but 8571 people from smoking. The numbers of alcohol and obesity related deaths necessary to warrant news coverage are equally high–at 4714 and 7500 respectively.

    The report, by think-tank the King's Fund, claims that news values are distorting health priorities. Although the deaths-per-news-story analysis is meant as no more than a crude measure designed to provoke debate about media health coverage, it gives some idea of how news reports on relatively small or unproven risks–such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine–vastly outweigh reports on “major killers,” such as obesity.

    This deaths-per-news-story analysis reveals a similar pattern in newspaper news. It takes 4444 deaths from smoking, 846 from alcohol, …

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