Australian print news media coverage of sweet, non-alcoholic drinks sends mixed health messages
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This study aimed to analyse the contribution of Australian print news coverage to the public profile of sweet, non-alcoholic beverages. News media portrayal of health contributes to individuals’ decision-making. The focus on sugar-sweetened beverages reflects their contribution to excessive energy intake.
One year’s coverage of sweet, non-alcoholic beverages by major Australian newspapers was analysed using content and frame analysis. Research questions addressed which sweet drinks are most prominently covered, what makes sweet drinks newsworthy and how are the health aspects of sweet drinks framed?
Fruit juice was the most widely covered sweet drink, closely followed by carbonated, sugar-sweetened soft drinks. Overall coverage was positively oriented towards sweet drinks, with fruit juice primarily portrayed as having health benefits. Some coverage mentioned risks of sweet drinks, such as obesity, tooth decay, metabolic syndrome and heart attack.
Sweet drinks often enjoy positive coverage, with their health benefits and harms central to their ability to attract journalists’ attention. However, the mix of coverage may be contributing to consumer confusion about whether it is safe and/or healthy to consume sweet non-alcoholic drinks.
Framing of sweet drinks as healthy may undermine efforts to encourage individuals to avoid excess consumption of energy-dense drinks which offer few or minimal health benefits.