Chronic fatigue syndrome in the media: a content analysis of newspaper articles, Jnl of the Royal Society of Medicine, May 2011

From the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, May 2011

Chronic fatigue syndrome in the media: a content analysis of newspaper articles

Ann Kristen Knudsen(1), Anne Nagelgaard Omenås(1), Samuel B Harvey(2), Camilla MS Løvvik (1), Linn V Lervik (1) and Arnstein Mykletun (1,3)
(1) Department of Health Promotion and Development, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
(2) King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Department of Psychological Medicine, Weston Education Centre, London, UK
(3) Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Division of Mental Health, Oslo, Norway
Correspondence to: Arnstein Mykletun. Email: Arnstein.Mykletun@uib.no

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Although cognitive behavioural therapy and graded exercise treatment are recognized evidence-based treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), their use is still considered controversial by some patient groups. This debate has been reflected in the media, where many patients gather health information. The aim of this study was to examine how treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME is described in the newspaper media.

DESIGN: Content analysis of newspaper articles.

SETTING; The digitalized media archive Atekst was used to identify Norwegian newspaper articles where chronic fatigue syndrome/ME was mentioned.

Participants Norwegian newspaper articles published over a 20-month period, from 1 January 2008 to 31 August 2009.

Main outcome measures Statements regarding efficiency of various types of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and the related source of the treatment advice. Statements were categorized as being either positive or negative towards evidence-based or alternative treatment.

RESULTS: One hundred and twenty-two statements regarding treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome/ME were identified among 123 newspaper articles. The most frequent statements were positive statements towards alternative treatment Lightning Process (26.2%), negative statements towards evidence-based treatments (22.1%), and positive statements towards other alternative treatment interventions (22.1%). Only 14.8% of the statements were positive towards evidence-based treatment. Case-subjects were the most frequently cited sources, accounting for 35.2% of the statements, followed by physicians and the Norwegian ME association.

CONCLUSIONS: Statements regarding treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME in newspapers are mainly pro-alternative treatment and against evidence-based treatment. The media has great potential to influence individual choices. The unbalanced reporting of treatment options for chronic fatigue syndrome/ME in the media is potentially harmful.

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