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The effect of media reporting on public worry during the swine flu outbreak

Potts, HWW; Rubin, GJ; Michie, S; (2010) The effect of media reporting on public worry during the swine flu outbreak. Presented at: UK Society for Behavioural Medicine 6th Annual Scientific Meeting, Leeds, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Background: The first lines of defence against the swine flu pandemic of 2009 were behavioural, for example improving public hand hygiene. Mass communication, through government advertising and via the media, offers the potential to promote recommended behaviours, but are these communications effective and are there dangers of scaremongering? Objectives: To assess whether reporting or advertising affected public perceptions of the swine flu outbreak. Methods: Thirty-six weekly telephone surveys were conducted in the UK during the outbreak (total n = 38,182), each using a new, randomly selected, sample of the population. Outcome measures included respondents’ ratings of their worry about the risk of catching swine flu, satisfaction with the amount of information available, perceived Government preparedness, perceiving that ‘too much fuss’ had been made about swine flu, and willingness to have a flu vaccine. Predictor variables included the total amount of media coverage relating to swine flu and the severity of the outbreak at the time of each survey. Additional questions in the first five surveys (early May) also covered other behavioural outcomes. Results: Worry fluctuated over the course of the pandemic, and was associated with the amount of media coverage (partial r = 0.52, p < 0.001). However, this effect did not persist beyond the first summer wave of cases. During the early stages of the outbreak, exposure to media coverage and adverts was associated with lower worry in path analyses, and with higher levels of recommended behaviours, in part through the perceived higher efficacy of these behaviours. Conclusions: Worrying about public health incidents has been shown to predict adaptive behavioural changes among the public. Finding ways to keep a pandemic in the news may help to maintain such changes. Perceived efficacy is another channel to promote such changes. Concerns about media scaremongering in the initial period were unproven.

Type: Conference item (UNSPECIFIED)
Title: The effect of media reporting on public worry during the swine flu outbreak
Event: UK Society for Behavioural Medicine 6th Annual Scientific Meeting
Location: Leeds, UK
Dates: 14 December 2010 - 15 December 2010
ISBN-13: 9780853163015
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://uksbm.org.uk/?page_id=869
UCL classification: UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences
UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care > CHIME
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/575408
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