Television News Coverage of Public Health Issues and Implications for Public Health Policy and Practice

Sarah E. Gollust, Erika Franklin Fowler, Jeff Niederdeppe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Television (TV) news, and especially local TV news, remains an important vehicle through which Americans obtain information about health-related topics. In this review, we synthesize theory and evidence on four main functions of TV news in shaping public health policy and practice: reporting events and information to the public (surveillance); providing the context for and meaning surrounding health issues (interpretation); cultivating community values, beliefs, and norms (socialization); and attracting and maintaining public attention for advertisers (attention merchant). We also identify challenges for TV news as a vehicle for improving public health, including declining audiences, industry changes such as station consolidation, increasingly politicized content, potential spread of misinformation, and lack of attention to inequity. We offer recommendations for public health practitioners and researchers to leverage TV news to improve public health and advance health equity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-185
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Public Health
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported, in part, by a grant (75347) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • agenda setting
  • framing
  • health communication
  • media industry
  • news media
  • public health
  • television


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