Adverse outcomes associated with media exposure to contradictory nutrition messages

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There is increasing concern that the media present conflicting health information on topics including cancer screening and nutrition. Although scholars have speculated that exposure to this information leads to increased public confusion, less trust in health recommendations, and less engagement in health behaviors, there is a lack of empirical research that directly addresses the role of media exposure to conflicting information. Using data from the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey, this study finds that exposure to conflicting information on the health benefits and risks of, for example, wine, fish, and coffee consumption is associated with confusion about what foods are best to eat and the belief that nutrition scientists keep changing their minds. There is evidence that these beliefs, in turn, may lead people to doubt nutrition and health recommendations more generally-including those that are not rife with contradictory information (e.g., fruit/vegetable consumption, exercise). The implications of these findings for healthy eating campaigns and interventions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-40
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (P20-CA 095856-08). The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute. Funding support for R.H.N. was also provided through the National Cancer Institute by the Harvard Education Program in Cancer Prevention and Control (5 R25-CA057711-18). The data were provided by the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey supported, in part, by the Annenberg Trust at Sunnylands. The author thanks Robert Hornik, Joseph Cappella, Michael Delli Carpini, the late Martin Fishbein, and Cabral Bigman for their helpful feedback during earlier stages of this research.


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