November 20, 2009

Speaker examines media’s role in women’s health

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Author Judy Norsigian talks at the School of Nursing about the media’s role in women’s health information. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Speaker examines media’s role in women’s health

Mixed, inaccurate and incomplete messages from the media make it increasingly difficult for women to make informed decisions about their health care, said Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, who spoke last week at an event hosted by the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's Midwifery Program.

“These are just some of the key challenges that face us as women health advocates or educators today,” said Norsigian. “And, it's getting worse as newspapers lose their news staffs and are not able to do investigative reporting and go beyond a public relations kit.”

In her hourlong presentation, Norsigian shared several examples of how the media's lens can distort women's health, such as:

• Best-selling cosmetics, including some that contain toxins such as lead in lipstick, are advertised in female-targeted publications that espouse beauty and health.

• Teenage girls are choosing the HPV vaccine based exclusively on highly produced television advertising by pharmaceutical companies that does not emphasize the vaccine is effective against two strands, not all strands of the virus.

• Women opting for breast augmentation based on portrayals in popular media but who do not understand the risks for adverse outcomes.

• Pregnant women not being encouraged to consider vaginal birth after C-section (VBACs) despite research that suggests VBACs are better for the mother's overall health.

• Osteoporosis advertising encouraging early screenings for all women despite research that indicates most women should start screenings at age 65.

“Judy's goal is not to take sides, but to ask the tough questions that result in a full disclosure of information so women can feel empowered and secure in making their own health care decisions,” said Mavis Schorn, Ph.D., C.N.M., VUSN's Midwifery program director.