Media Coverage of Expanded Definition of Hypertension Unbalanced

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Media coverage on the expanded definition of hypertension was largely positive but did not sufficiently cover information on potential harms.
Media coverage on the expanded definition of hypertension was largely positive but did not sufficiently cover information on potential harms.

Media coverage on the expanded definition of hypertension was largely positive but did not sufficiently cover information on potential harms, conflicts of interest, or concerns raised among influential medical groups, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Investigators sought to examine how the media covered the benefits and harms of the expanded definition of hypertension from new guidelines put forth by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association in 2017.

The researchers performed a cross-sectional analysis of media coverage on the 2017 expanded definition of hypertension between November 2017 and July 2018 by searching ProQuest and PubMed databases for relevant English language articles; 100 stories, 15 press releases, and 37 journal articles were included in the study. Primary outcomes reported the proportion of media coverage on the new guidelines' potential benefits, potential harms, balance of benefits and harms, and potential conflicts of interest of members of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.

Of 100 stories, 98 covered the benefits of the expanded definition of hypertension (95% CI, 95%-100%), 67 did not mention any harms (95% CI, 58%-76%), 73 favored benefits overall (95% CI, 64%-82%), and 98 did not mention any conflicts of interest (95% CI, 95%-100%). Press releases were similarly positive about the benefits of the new 2017 guidelines, but journal articles offered more balance with only 14 out of 37 articles favoring the benefits of the expanded definition of hypertension overall.

Limitations to study included the use of the ProQuest database, which is not comprehensive across all forms of media, and only analyzing English language records.

“In light of moves to reform disease definition processes, our findings suggest a need to improve media coverage of expanding disease definitions, particularly when those expanding definitions may cause people harm,” the investigators concluded. 

Reference                    

Moynihan RN, Clark J, Albarqouni L. Media coverage of the benefits and harms of the 2017 expanded definition of high blood pressure [published online December 28, 2018]. JAMA Intern Med. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.6201

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