Parents find media reports of child health research contradictory

March 18, 2011

Only about half of parents believe that the media communicate the results of child health research effectively, according to a survey conducted by the C S Mott Children?s Hospital at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Only about half of parents believe that the media communicate the results of child health research effectively, according to a survey conducted by the C S Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Researchers there, led by Sarah J. Clark, MPH, administered the survey to a nationwide sample of 1,621 parents 18 years or older (completion rate, 60%).

Although 77% of parents like when medical experts in the media explain what the research means for their children, only 51% believe that the media do a good job explaining how medical research may affect their children.

Further, the majority of parents indicated that media reports about children’s health are contradictory and unnecessarily scary, and 50% say that health research reports often are difficult to understand.

“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,” said Clark, associate director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan. “We found that no single media source was rated as best in all areas-timeliness, accuracy, how easily the information is understood, and whether a medical expert offers insight and explanation. As a result, many parents struggle to understand information they find confusing, contradictory, and sometimes scary.”

In comparing the strengths of media sources in communicating child health research, 61% of parents indicated that health Web sites do the best job conveying accurate information, and 50% believe that health Web sites also were best at providing expert opinion to explain the research. Some 53% of parents said that television reaches them first with new information.

Overall, 51% chose health Web sites as the best source, whereas 29% thought that television was the best overall source.

“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,” said Clark. “Whether parents seek health Web sites 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.”

C S Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Parents want explanations, not scare tactics, from the media about children’s health. March 14, 2011. www.uofmhealth.org/news/explanations-not-scare-tactics. Accessed March 17, 2011.