The Use of Sensational Language in News Articles about Anti-diabetic therapies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

Abstract

Background: Diabetes affects approximately 24.7 million people in the United States with an estimated cost of $327 billion annually; of which, $102 billion is medication cost.1 News outlets often publish stories about diabetic therapies — and since these stories may play a significant role in educating healthcare providers, patients, and the public — their accuracy and use of accurate language is critical. In 2011, Diabetes Australia published a statement that outlined terms to use when communicating about diabetes. They emphasized the role of the media and its influence on public views of health topics. Studies2,3 have found that the use of superlatives — exaggerated language intended to capture interest —- have been used to describe “breakthrough” or “miracle” drugs, but lack supporting clinical data. We evaluated the frequency of superlative use in articles of diabetic agents as a measure of the claims presented by news articles using Health on the Net Code of Conduct (HONCode).4

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study based on methods developed by Abola and Prasad.3 We searched articles from 6/16/2019 to 12/16/2019 for the keyword “diabetes drug” using Google News for 11 superlatives: “breakthrough,” ”cure,” “game changer,” ”groundbreaking,” “home run,” “life-changing,” “life-saving,” “marvel,” “miracle,” “revolutionary,” and “transformative.” Two investigators (S.N. and M.S.) performed article screening and data extraction in a duplicate, blinded fashion. Disagreements were resolved by consensus. The following data was extracted using a Google form: article URL, news outlet, frequency of superlative(s), therapy or medical device, drug classification, phase of development, FDA status, drug novelty, presence of clinical data, and the author’s background. To validate claims made by articles, we searched for the HONCode logo and cross-referenced the HONCode search engine for the websites of every article.

Results: 62 news articles met inclusion criteria from 32 news outlets. We found 120 superlatives describing 31 diabetic therapies. Teplizumab had the highest frequency of superlative instances (18/120, 15.0%) and news articles (11/62, 17.7%) (Table 1). The majority of articles were written by journalists (44/62, 72.0%). Therapies in clinical trials had the highest superlative frequency (56/120, 46.7%) and were featured in the most news articles (24/62, 38.7%) (Table 2). One (of 39, 2.6%) news outlet was HONCode registered.

Discussion: We found that superlatives were used in articles for FDA approved and non-approved therapies. Almost three-quarters of the articles were authored by journalists, who made unsupported claims. The unsubstantiated superlatives “cure” and “miracle” were troublesome. This hyperbolic verbiage may not be scientifically substantiated; yet, this form of advertising captures reader interest leading to increased drug prices, medication overutilization, and inappropriate prescribing.6 Studies have shown that superlative language in press releases from pharmaceutical companies leads to a surge in news containing the same or similar claims.7 The Association of Health Care Journalists provides principles for journalists to follow when publishing medical articles, which includes omitting sensational language and quantifying the benefit and risk of therapies. We recommend that these principles be adopted by both health news and press release writers.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages68
StatePublished - 22 Feb 2021
EventOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021: Poster presentation - Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Campus, Tulsa, United States
Duration: 22 Feb 202126 Feb 2021

Conference

ConferenceOklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Research Days 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityTulsa
Period22/02/2126/02/21

Keywords

  • Diabetes
  • Superlatives
  • News
  • Cross-sectional

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