While cell phones, artificial sweeteners, and certain prescription drugs may, according to myriad news reports, cause cancer, it appears that local TV is a significant source of cancer fatalism.
Two recently published research papers suggest that a steady diet of local TV news leads people to believe that they have little or no control over whether or not they get cancer.
The papers, published by researchers at Cornell University and The Ohio State University, and reviewed by Miller-McCune, show that local TV news is more likely than other news outlets to emphasize recent scientific findings and less likely to include context and information about prevention.
Miller-McCune summarizes the findings of Cornell University’s Jeff Niederdeppe:
By focusing on shocking new studies that reveal a ‘novel or controversial’ potential cause of the disease, local television news tends ‘to cultivate the belief that everything causes cancer.’
Chul-joo Lee of Ohio State followed up on the Cornell findings and studied the effect of local TV viewing over time. She found that a viewer’s fatalistic beliefs about cancer increased over the course of a year while consistently watching local news.
“Researchers and public health officials might consider conducting educational or training sessions with local TV journalists to report on cancer in a way that minimizes the likelihood of developing fatalistic beliefs,” Niederdeppe and Lee recommend.