Objective: Little is known about the quantity or quality of information on rheumatic diseases provided by the mass media. The aim of this study was to gain insight into the media coverage of rheumatic diseases compared with other chronic diseases in the Netherlands. - Materials and Methods: Newspaper articles, magazine articles, and medicaltelevision programs that appeared or were broadcast during a 1-year period; and contained information on rheumatic diseases, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, or diabetes mellitus, were selected for content analysis. For each article and program, it was determined whether coverage concentrated on treatment, influence of lifestyle, scientific progress, or disease consequences. It was also determined whether professional experts and patients were featured. - Results: Nine hundred seventeen newspaper articles, 304 magazine articles, and 163 medical programs were found. Most dealt with cancer (43%) and heart disease (37%). The amount of media attention given to each of the five disease categories was found to correspond with mortality but not with prevalence. The contents of the articles and programs differed significantly according to disease topic. The main focus in rheumatic diseases was on patients' experiences, as well as regular and alternative medications. In heart disease and cancer, the main focus was on professional medical viewpoints, operations, and mortality, whereas in chronic lung disease and diabetes it was on treatments in the context of regular medications, scientific progress, and incurability. The influence of lifestyle on the disease process was mentioned most often in connection with diabetes, rheumatic disease, and chronic lung disease. - Conclusions: The amount of attention a disease category received from themedia depended on its fatality rates and not on its prevalence. Heart disease and cancer were portrayed as being more serious than the more lingering diseases. Surprisingly, the proportion of articles and programs that included the influence of lifestyle in their coverage was lowest for cancer and heart disease. More frequent and more accurate coverage of chronic diseases, especially rheumatic diseases, is needed if their image is to be brought into line with their importance for and impact on the community.
- Chronic diseases