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Risk messages relating to fertility and pregnancy: a media content analysis

Marshall, Olivia, Blaylock, Rebecca, Murphy, Clare and Sanders, Julia 2021. Risk messages relating to fertility and pregnancy: a media content analysis. Wellcome Open Research 6 , 114. 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16744.1

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Background: The UK print and online media is an important channel by which scientific research is communicated to the public. Media risk messages relating to pregnancy or fertility contribute to the context of reproductive decision making, but their fidelity to the underlying science has been questioned. Method: We measured the volume, distribution and content of science-based risk headlines relating to pregnancy or fertility in the UK media over four months. We grouped headlines into unique stories and categorised them by exposure and outcome of interest. We selected four unique stories for closer content analysis and assessed their fidelity to the underlying science, with attention to the role of press releases. Results: We identified 171 headlines over four months (average 43 per month), comprising 56 unique stories. The unique stories most commonly concerned maternal risk factors (n=46) and child health outcomes (n=46). Maternal health outcomes were less frequently the focus (n=20). The most common risk factors in the media coverage were maternal food and drink (n=15), maternal medication and medical interventions (n=9), and maternal health factors (n=6). Media reports were largely faithful to press releases. Where substantive deviations from the underlying scientific study were identified, these could mostly be traced back to press releases or quotes from the study’s authors. Press releases often omitted caveats which were reinstated at the media reporting stage, alongside additional expert criticism. Conclusions: Frequent science-based risk messages in the UK media frame mothers as vectors of potential harm to children, who are the focus of health outcomes. Largely, the media does not introduce misinformation, but reports press releases faithfully with additional caveats and expert commentary. Press releases fulfil an interpretative role, often omitting caveats and introducing new elements and advice to women. Their role as a bridge between scientific and lay audiences is discussed.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Healthcare Sciences
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
Publisher: F1000Research
ISSN: 2398-502X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 27 August 2021
Date of Acceptance: 14 May 2021
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2021 14:45

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