IN THE NEWS: And the Most Closely Watched Stories Were…
A new Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey shows that the health news stories most closely followed in November 1998 were the legal settlement between Big Tobacco and the states and the abortion-related murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian in upstate New York. According to the KFF/Harvard Health News Index, 66% of adults followed the tobacco settlement and 56% the Slepian murder, compared to the leading stories during that period -- events in Iraq (79%) and the impeachment hearings in Congress (74%). Rounding out the list of health stories most covered in November were the "60 Minutes" report on Dr. Jack Kevorkian (54%), reports on alternative medicine (45%), FDA warnings on Viagra (44%), the report repudiating the link between breast implants and cancer (39%), smoking among college students (36%) and World AIDS Day (22%). The survey of 12,000 adults had an error margin of +/- 3%.
But Do They Understand?
In attempting to assess the public's understanding of health stories, the Kaiser/Harvard survey found that 69% of respondents knew that the tobacco deal concerned payment of billions of dollars to the states and 74% understood that tobacco companies would be banned from advertising on billboards and using cartoon characters, but 40% erroneously thought "the deal included a ban on individual and class action lawsuits." Twenty-five percent correctly stated that individual and class action suits were specifically allowed. Although 25% of the public said it followed World AIDS Day "somewhat closely," only 12% of those surveyed knew what month it took place (December) and only 13% knew that this year's theme was "Youth and AIDS."
Year in Review
For all of 1998, the most closely followed general health stories were tobacco (May and November), the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, AL (January), and the hope of a cancer cure (May). The most closely followed health policy stories were President Clinton's proposed Medicare changes (January), patient protection for HMO enrollees (July) and Medicare HMO pullouts (September-October) (Kaiser/Harvard release, Nov/Dec 1998).