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.


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

get e-alerts in your inbox: