Media coverage of autism study leaves out critical context

printer friendlyprinter friendly

There has been a lot of media attention on a new study published in Pediatrics that links obesity during pregnancy to increased risk of autism. The researchers studied more than 1,000 children in California and found that the risk of autism was 60% higher among those born to mothers who were obese, hypertensive or diabetic during their pregnancy.

Autism spectrum disorders appear to be on the rise in the United States, and research about the possible causes of this increase is vital. However, news coverage of this latest study is problematic because it frames autism as a problem that may primarily be the responsibility of mothers, giving little to no attention to the many social, cultural, and environmental factors that research has shown to contribute to obesity. For example, mothers cannot determine how many stores offer decently priced fresh foods. They cannot overpower the food and beverage industry that spends millions of dollars every hour marketing cheap fast foods and sugary beverages. They cannot single-handedly improve the safety of their neighborhoods to make them more walkable or conducive to physical activity.

Though most articles acknowledge the study's limits and caution against drawing premature conclusions about potential connections between obesity and autism, they nevertheless point to what pregnant women should be doing differently to lose weight. An LA Times article encourages diet and exercise in the first sentence, and NPR paraphrases a study author, saying, "[I]t's clearly a good idea for women who are overweight or obese to try to slim down before becoming pregnant."

This is not the first time that news coverage of a health issue has reinforced a "mother blaming" frame. For example, much coverage of breastfeeding, which has many known health benefits, tends to scold mothers who don't breastfeed rather than exploring the barriers in the workplace, hospital and other locations that make it hard for women to nurse.

Academics, professionals, and journalists who want to improve our public's health need to be critical of the contextual factors that influence it. Reporters -- and the advocates who talk with them -- should explain and illustrate the conditions that precede individual decision-making. By widening the lens, we will identify other institutions that are accountable, such as city councils or the food beverage industry, in the case of obesity, that can help provide healthier environments for mothers, children and all people alike.


cap the tap (1) elephant triggers (1) naacp (1) diabetes prevention (1) tobacco (5) Big Food (2) collaboration (1) media (7) alcohol (5) campaign finance (1) suicide nets (1) soda (12) white house (1) liana winett (1) political correctness (1) soda industry (4) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) Merck (1) obesity prevention (1) Proposition 29 (1) Texas (1) personal responsibility (3) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) Whiteclay (4) Sam Kass (1) Chile (1) news analysis (3) junk food marketing (4) Golden Gate Bridge (2) breastfeeding (3) childhood lead poisoning (1) Twitter (1) social media (2) environmental health (1) abortion (1) sexual violence (2) language (6) physical activity (1) sexual assault (1) mental health (2) Big Soda (2) indoor smoking ban (1) Black Lives Matter (1) gun violence (1) food and beverage marketing (3) paula deen (1) water security (1) Measure O (1) industry appeals to choice (1) soda taxes (2) cancer research (1) sports drinks (1) seat belt laws (1) FCC (1) target marketing (9) Twitter for advocacy (1) cannes lions festival (1) social change (1) community (1) PepsiCo (1) Bloomberg (3) Berkeley (2) Dora the Explorer (1) Sandy Hook (2) prevention (1) marketing (1) cancer prevention (1) inequities (1) Tea Party (1) Penn State (3) chronic disease (2) social justice (2) framing (14) soda tax (11) food marketing (5) HPV vaccine (1) product safety (1) youth (1) Amanda Fallin (1) Coca-Cola (3) george lakoff (1) food access (1) default frame (1) beauty products (1) food (1) ssb (1) news monitoring (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) ACEs (2) Bill Cosby (1) journalism (1) food environment (1) media analysis (6) health care (1) sanitation (1) election 2016 (1) McDonald's (1) genital warts (1) women's health (2) Colorado (1) corporate social responsibility (1) emergency contraception (1) childhood obesity (1) American Beverage Association (1) food deserts (1) Nickelodeon (1) suicide barrier (2) strategic communication (1) messaging (3) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) gatorade bolt game (1) weight of the nation (1) privilege (1) child sexual abuse (5) Newtown (1) cervical cancer (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) food industry (4) Marion Nestle (1) values (1) new year's resolutions (1) tobacco industry (2) community health (1) Rachel Grana (1) regulation (2) diabetes (1) childhood adversity (1) community safety (1) race (1) public health (71) El Monte (3) sexism (2) prison phone calls (1) summer camps (1) Jerry Sandusky (3) prison system (1) San Francisco (3) filibuster (1) childhood obestiy conference (1) sugary drinks (10) california (1) public health policy (2) auto safety (1) choice (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) autism (1) suicide prevention (2) democracy (1) stigma (1) paper tigers (1) obesity (10) Joe Paterno (1) Richmond (5) childhood trauma (3) reproductive justice (1) gender (1) online marketing (1) tobacco tax (1) SB 402 (1) structural racism (1) Proposition 47 (1) communication strategy (1) SSBs (1) Oakland Unified School District (1) public health data (1) advocacy (3) nanny state (2) safety (1) beverage industry (2) community organizing (1) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) equity (3) media advocacy (23) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) community violence (1) healthy eating (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) institutional accountability (1) digital marketing (3) Citizens United (1) communication (2) Michelle Obama (1) tobacco control (2) violence (2) news strategy (1) built environment (2) measure N (2) world water day (1) Connecticut shooting (1) education (1) children's health (3) Oglala Sioux (3) violence prevention (8) SB 1000 (1) Big Tobacco (3) authentic voices (1) Aurora (1) vaccines (1) gun control (2) government intrusion (1) Gardasil (1) media bites (1) Let's Move (1) news (2) junk food (2) apha (3) front groups (1) adverse childhood experiences (3) food justice (1) health equity (10) nonprofit communications (1) Wendy Davis (1) SB-5 (1) water (1) Happy Meals (1) soda warning labels (1) snap (1) racism (1) Telluride (1) Donald Trump (2) news coverage (1) sexual health (1) cosmetics (1) Catholic church (1) food swamps (1) cigarette advertising (1) sandusky (2) social math (1)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: