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News In Red and Blue: How Messages About Social Factors and Health Can Backfire
Date:10/16/2009

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here's a health idea that Democrats and Republicans agree on: when given information on the genetic factors that cause diabetes, both parties equally supported public health policies to prevent the disease.

But a study designed by the University of Michigan showed Republicans were less supportive of such policies after reading news reports that people with diabetes got their illness because of social or economic factors in which they live, such as lack of neighborhood grocery stores or safe places to exercise. The social factors increased Democrats' support.

The study will appear online Thursday ahead of its December publication in the American Journal of Public Health.

"When people are given the same information they can come away with very different opinions," says Sarah E. Gollust, Ph.D., a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who worked on the study during her doctoral work at U-M.

Increasing public awareness of social factors that impact health may not uniformly increase public support for action because some groups simply do not believe they are credible, authors write.

"Policymakers and journalists should be aware that social values influence people's opinions about health policy, and certain messages in the media might trigger these values," she says.

The findings contribute to evidence that Americans' opinions about health policy are polarized by political party lines, according to the study.

Gollust designed the study with Paula Lantz, Ph.D., a social epidemiologist and chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the U-M School of Public Health and Peter A. Ubel, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and director of the U-M Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine.

Study participants viewed news
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SOURCE University of Michigan Health System
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