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Mass print media depictions of cancer and heart disease: community versus individualistic perspectives?


Juanne Clarke Department of Sociology Wilfrid Laurier University 75 University Avenue West Waterloo Ontario Canada N2L 3C5 E-mail:


This paper is based on a critical discourse content analysis of 40 stories from the 20 highest circulating English-language mass magazines available in Canada and published in Canada or the USA in 2001. It examines the presence or absence of the social determinants perspective in the portrayal of the two most significant causes of morbidity and mortality in these countries: cancer and heart disease. The media analysis documents an absence of reflection of the social determinants viewpoint on these, the most important causes of disease and death. Thus, magazine stories ignore the role of such considerations as income, education level, ethnicity, visible minority or, Aboriginal status, early life experiences, employment and working conditions, food accessibility and quality, housing, social services, social exclusion, or unemployment and employment security in explaining health. Instead, the magazine articles underscore an individualistic approach to disease that assumes that health care is accessible and available to all, and that these diseases are preventable and treatable through individual lifestyle choices in combination with the measures prescribed through conventional medicine. Although cancer and heart disease are framed by a medical discourse, articles tended to emphasise the independence, freedom and power of the individual within the medical care system. The research documents a continuation of the dominance of conventional medicine buttressed by individualism in media stories. Theoretical and methodological issues are discussed. Some of the practical consequences for policy-makers and professionals are noted.