The most balanced media coverage of the 2017 expanded definition of hypertension came from journal articles, researchers suggested.
When the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) announced in November 2017 that they were jointly lowering their official threshold for hypertension down to 130/80 mm Hg in a broad population, the ensuing news stories tended to be too uncritical, suggested the team led by Raymond Moynihan, PhD, of Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia.
Of 100 English-language news articles, 98 covered the benefits of the expanded definition and 67 did not mention any harms. Moreover, 73 of the stories mainly focused on the benefits, and 98 failed to mention conflicts of interest belonging to the authors of the new hypertension cutoffs, Moynihan’s group showed in a paper published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Not surprisingly, the 15 press releases studied were even more glowing about the expanded coverage.
“In light of moves to reform disease definition processes, our findings suggest a need to improve media coverage of expanding disease definitions, particularly when those expanding definitions may cause many people harm,” the authors said.
On the other hand, most of the 37 journal articles from that period were neutral regarding the risk-benefit balance, as nearly 80% of these articles did mention harms.
(MedPage Today covered the 2017 ACC/AHA guideline release. Judge for yourself how we stack up.)
Given that the analysis was limited to English-language articles available from the ProQuest database, Moynihan and colleagues acknowledged that they did not capture all media stories on the new hypertension cutoffs.
Nevertheless, there remains concerns about potential overtreatment and uncertainty regarding blood pressure measurement methods.
Both the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians declined to endorse the tighter definition. Instead, the two organizations recommend a systolic blood pressure target of 150 mm Hg among adults ages 60 and older (or 140 mm Hg for patients with high cardiovascular risk or a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack).
Moynihan disclosed receiving grant support from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council as well as serving on the scientific committee for the Preventing Overdiagnosis conference.