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A content analysis of the representation of statins in the British newsprint media
  1. Julia Chisnell1,
  2. Tom Marshall2,
  3. Chris Hyde1,
  4. Zhivko Zhelev1,
  5. Lora E Fleming3
  1. 1 PenCLAHRC, Institute of Health Research, University of Exeter Medical School, Exeter, UK
  2. 2 Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  3. 3 European Centre for Environment & Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Exeter, UK
  1. Correspondence to Julia Chisnell; Julia.Chisnell{at}


Objective This study reviewed the news media coverage of statins, seeking to identify specific trends or differences in viewpoint between media outlets and examine common themes.

Design The study is a content analysis of the frequency and content of the reporting of statins in a selection of the British newsprint media. It involved an assessment of the number, timing and thematic content of articles followed by a discourse analysis examining the underlying narratives. The sample was the output of four UK newspapers, covering a broad-spectrum readership, over a six month timeframe 1 October 2013 to 31 March 2014.

Results A total of 67 articles included reference to statins. The majority (39, 58%) were reporting or responding to publication of a clinical study. The ratio of negative to positive coverage was greater than 2:1 overall. In the more politically right-leaning newspapers, 67% of coverage was predominantly negative (30/45 articles); 32% in the more left-leaning papers (7/22 articles). Common themes were the perceived ‘medicalisation’ of the population; the balance between lifestyle modification and medical treatments in the primary prevention of heart disease; side effects and effectiveness of statins; pharmaceutical sponsorship and implications for the reliability of evidence; trust between the public and government, institutions, research organisations and the medical profession.

Conclusions Newsprint media coverage of statins was substantially influenced by the publication of national guidance and by coverage in the medical journals of clinical studies and comment. Statins received a predominantly negative portrayal, notably in the more right-leaning press. There were shared themes: concern about the balance between medication and lifestyle change in the primary prevention of heart disease; the adverse effects of treatment; and a questioning of the reliability of evidence from research institutions, scientists and clinicians in the light of their potential allegiances and funding.

  • statins
  • content analysis
  • cardiovascular medicine
  • medicalisation
  • media coverage

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  • Contributors JC collected the data, undertook the analysis, and is the main author of the final paper. TM had the original idea, contributed significantly to the design and development of the study, and commented on the drafts of the article. CJ, LF and ZZ commented on the drafts of the article.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent No human subjects involved in the research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement A copy of the coding scheme is supplied as supplementary information. The original data were obtained from publicly available sources.