Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Health disparities and advertising content of women's magazines: a cross-sectional study

Susan C Duerksen12, Amy Mikail1, Laura Tom1, Annie Patton1, Janina Lopez1, Xavier Amador1, Reynaldo Vargas1, Maria Victorio1, Brenda Kustin1 and Georgia Robins Sadler1*

Author Affiliations

1 Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center, University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0658 USA

2 Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA

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BMC Public Health 2005, 5:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-5-85

Published: 18 August 2005



Disparities in health status among ethnic groups favor the Caucasian population in the United States on almost all major indicators. Disparities in exposure to health-related mass media messages may be among the environmental factors contributing to the racial and ethnic imbalance in health outcomes. This study evaluated whether variations exist in health-related advertisements and health promotion cues among lay magazines catering to Hispanic, African American and Caucasian women.


Relative and absolute assessments of all health-related advertising in 12 women's magazines over a three-month period were compared. The four highest circulating, general interest magazines oriented to Black women and to Hispanic women were compared to the four highest-circulating magazines aimed at a mainstream, predominantly White readership. Data were collected and analyzed in 2002 and 2003.


Compared to readers of mainstream magazines, readers of African American and Hispanic magazines were exposed to proportionally fewer health-promoting advertisements and more health-diminishing advertisements. Photographs of African American role models were more often used to advertise products with negative health impact than positive health impact, while the reverse was true of Caucasian role models in the mainstream magazines.


To the extent that individual levels of health education and awareness can be influenced by advertising, variations in the quantity and content of health-related information among magazines read by different ethnic groups may contribute to racial disparities in health behaviors and health status.