Defining a Crisis: the Impact of Attention and Crisis Language on Diabetes in America

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Virginia Tech Publishing


Public health crises are shaped by the nature of public discourse surrounding them. Attention and portrayal of disease in the media and advocacy from interest groups play a significant role in defining, labeling, and framing health threats in the United States. The frequency of coverage and the use of crisis language in the public discourse determine issue salience and creates a discursive epidemic that coincides with medical threats. Diabetes presents a growing challenge for public health in the U.S. due to its rising prevalence in the population; however, it also represents an important example of how health crisis are portrayed. This paper examines how media coverage and advocacy group portrayals of diabetes have evolved. Taking a longitudinal approach, media archives and advocacy group publications are examined, focusing on the period from 1985 to 2014. Finally, this paper seeks to use the coverage of diabetes as a reflection of public discourse and the nature of public health crises. This research falls at the intersection of several fields of study, including media effects, communication, psychology, and political behavior. The perception of a crisis and its surrounding discourse shape public perception and determine political and social response. Specifically, observing the frequency and content of language used to discuss diabetes in America can reveal the dynamics of communication in the public sphere and why some issues are salient while others are not.




McPhie, M., 2016. Defining a Crisis: the Impact of Attention and Crisis Language on Diabetes in America. Spectra, 5(2). DOI: