Research abstract:

A content analysis of chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis in the news from 1987 to 2013, by Zachary A Siegel, Abigail Brown, Andrew Devendorf,  Johanna Collier, Leonard Jason in Chronic Illness [Preprint April 2017]

The aim of this study was to analyze the content of American newspaper articles (n=214) from 1987 to 2013, in order to understand how the public digests information related to Chronic Fatigue syndrome, a controversial and misunderstood illness.

A novel codebook derived from the scientific literature was applied to 214 newspaper articles collected from Lexis Nexis Academic(r). These articles were coded quantitatively and frequency tables were created to delineate the variables as they appeared in the articles.

The etiology was portrayed as organic in 64.5% (n=138) of the articles, and there was no mention of case definitions or diagnostic criteria in 56.1% (n=120) of the articles. The most common comorbidity was depression, appearing in 22.9% (n=49) of the articles. In 55.6% (n=119) of the articles, there was no mention of prevalence rates. In 50.9% (n=109) of the articles, there was no mention of any form of treatment for the illness. A total of 19.4% (n=42) of the headlines mislabeled the name of the illness.

Based on descriptive statistics of all 214 coded articles, media communicated mixed messages for salient variables such as the name of the illness, its etiology and treatment.

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