AIDS in black & white: The influence of news coverage of HIV/AIDS on HIV/AIDS testing among African Americans and White Americans, 1993–2007

Robin Stanback Stevens, University of Pennsylvania


HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African Americans and has throughout the majority of the epidemic. The news media has been instrumental in educating and informing the public about HIV/AIDS. Critics have noted the minimal coverage of HIV/AIDS among African Americans in mainstream news in the face of the clear racial disparities. Media messages which do address the epidemic among African Americans typically emphasize the role of individual behavior, though much of the research suggests that the disparities are largely a product of structural determinants. This study examines the news media as one structural determinant influencing HIV/AIDS related attitudes and behaviors in the population, and distally influencing racial disparities. The data are taken from the Center for Disease Control and Preventions' (CDC) National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from 1993 to 2007 and a content analysis of national newspaper coverage during the same time period. This study utilizes distributed lagged regression models to predict the influence of HIV/AIDS news coverage on an HIV/AIDS related attitude and HIV/AIDS testing behavior. This study also examines differential effects of news coverage on African Americans and Whites. The content analysis suggests that HIV/AIDS news coverage shifts from a national to an international focus, with small declines in coverage of the epidemic among African-Americans. The findings also suggest that fluctuations in HIV/AIDS news coverage impact attitudes and behavior in the population. Specifically, increases in HIV/AIDS news coverage were associated with increased perceptions of HIV/AIDS risk in the population and decreased levels of HIV/AIDS testing. In addition, this effect differed by racial group, with African Americans exhibiting greater declines in HIV testing in response to news coverage than Whites. The mechanisms driving the negative effect; potentially related to behavioral substitution, fear, and risk perception deserve further investigation. Collectively, these results challenge previously held assumptions that increased knowledge leads to increased risk reduction behavior. They also provide evidence that news coverage could inadvertently exacerbate racial health disparities.

Subject Area

Public health|Ethnic studies|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Stevens, Robin Stanback, "AIDS in black & white: The influence of news coverage of HIV/AIDS on HIV/AIDS testing among African Americans and White Americans, 1993–2007" (2009). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3363671.