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Health News and Responsibility

How Frames Create Blame


Lesa Hatley Major and Stacie Meihaus Jankowski

Who the public blames for health problems determines who the public believes is responsible for solving those health problems. Health policies targeting the broader public are the most effective way to improve health. The research approach described in this book will increase public support for critical health policies. The authors systematically organized and analyzed 25 years of thematic and episodic framing research in health news to create an approach to reframe responsibility in health news in order to gain public support for health policies. They apply their method to two of the top health issues in world—obesity and mental health—and conclude by discussing future research and plans for working with other health scholars, health practitioners, and journalists.

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Chapter Seven: Thematic and Episodic Frames in Obesity News: Findings from Three Studies


chapter seven

Thematic and Episodic Frames in Obesity News: Findings from Three Studies

Like many public health practitioners and health communication scholars, we believe public policy is one of the most effective ways to improve overall population health. News can be a powerful ally in gaining the public’s support for policy. Evidence supports the use of thematic frames in health stories as a way to help audience members understand the effectiveness of policy solutions, thus gain their support. However, there is still much to learn about this process.

Our interest in thematic frames in health news stems from our research analyzing effective ways to communicate information about health policy solutions to the public. We see this as a process involving frame construction, news content, and framing effects. We proposed organizing and evaluating existing research on health news using thematic and episodic frames by situating it in deVreese’s (2005) integrated process model of framing—news frame-building and news frame-setting. Frame-building research examines the frames in news (factors internal and external), while frame-setting research examines framing effects, including interactions between audience members’ prior beliefs and attitudes. By using the model in this way, we were able to identify key contributions made by others who have conducted research on these frames, and add the factors we think need the most consideration for future studies.

In Chapter 5, we explained these factors in great detail. In Chapter 6, we use the integrated process model of framing...

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