Top 10 public health media bites of 2016

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From soda taxes to mass incarceration to gun violence prevention and more, public health issues have made headlines throughout the year. Advocates have been instrumental in shaping this coverage and using media advocacy to push forward the issues that matter. In light of this year's presidential election and the new political context advocates face, it is now more important than ever that we engage with the media to advance and protect policies that serve our most vulnerable communities.

Every day, Berkeley Media Studies Group monitors the news to understand how public health issues are circulating in mainstream and social media. As we do our daily news scans, memorable media bites often catch our eye, make us reflect more deeply about an issue, and when used successfully, even inspire us to take action.

Every year, we collect our favorite media bites and share them with our colleagues, family and friends. Listed below are our Top 10 for 2016, organized by topic.


chess board

"If you work full-time in America, you should be able to get by; when you work extra, you should be able to get ahead."
-U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a statement about new overtime rules that went into effect December 1. Appeared Sept. 27, 2016 in Rewire.

Why we like it: Short and concise, this media bite packs a punch because it appeals to readers' sense of fairness and equity. Labor has been a dominant issue this year, and this quote gets right to its heart.

drop of water

"It doesn't take three months to raise a child. Paid leave is a drop in the bucket. It's a very important drop, but it's a very empty bucket."
-Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California, Hastings, said regarding a proposed 12-week paid leave bill. Appeared Jan. 7, 2016 in The New York Times.

Why we like it: This vivid metaphor moves away from the individual frame, which is all too common in U.S. media, and highlights the fact that we need a strong safety net and institutional support systems to raise children.

jail cell

"If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out."
-From Barbara Ehrenreich's review of the book "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," by sociology professor and ethnographer Matthew Desmond. Appeared Feb. 28, 2016 in The New York Times.

Why we like it: This media bite uses irony — black men locked in, black women locked out — and expands the attention surrounding the mass incarceration of men of color to the plight of housing in communities of color.

Violence prevention

gun show

"Nobody thought we could beat the cigarette companies, nobody thought we would beat the automobile companies when they tried to convince us you don't need safety belts. One day, we will look back with the same belief and awareness that we stopped and changed the culture of guns."
-Filmmaker Robert Greenwald said in a talk about gun violence. Appeared April 10, 2016 in the Daily Nexus.

Why we like it: This media bite offers advocates hope and motivation, which are especially needed during this difficult post-election era. Sometimes it is important for advocates to remember the hard-won victories of the past, particularly those that happened in the face of immense opposition.


"If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can't pull the trigger of a gun."
-President Barack Obama. Appeared Jan. 7, 2016 in an op-ed for The New York Times.

Why we like it: Drawing a startling comparison, President Obama takes a controversial issue and boils it down to an obvious conclusion. Using familiar items to explain complex issues can be an effective way for advocates to point out skewed priorities and push for policy change.

Reproductive justice

chain-link fence

"It's safer to have an abortion than to get your wisdom teeth out. Yet in recent years, states like Texas have passed hundreds of restrictions on abortion for the sake of 'protecting women's health,' and none on dental surgery."
-Star-Ledger editorial board. Appeared Feb. 29, 2016 at in New Jersey's Star-Ledger.

Why we like it: A forthcoming BMSG news analysis has found that factual information about abortion's safety is rarely mentioned in news stories, while policies to restrict the procedure based on alleged health risks are common in coverage, leaving room for anti-abortion myths to take hold. By comparing abortion to another familiar medical procedure, this statement dispels a common myth about safety in a memorable way. It also highlights the irony of basing policy decisions on myths, rather than facts.

Food and beverage

soda bottles

"The success of Philadelphia's effort is another win for the little guy, in an ongoing David-and-Goliath fight that is proving that science and common sense can beat the big bucks, media blitz and lobbying efforts of soda companies."
-Public Health Institute statement on Philadelphia's historic soda tax victory. Appeared June 17, 2016 in Healthy Food America.

Why we like it: It's difficult to read this without feeling a sense of pride. Public health advocates routinely take on corporate giants with wallets much fatter — and staffs much larger — than their adversaries. It can be easy to feel defeated being the little guy, but this age-old analogy is infused with a can-do spirit and is an important reminder that victory often does not depend on size, but heart.

soda can with olympics logo

"The Olympic Games should be a beacon of human progress and ability, not a place where poor nutrition is given a halo of gold."
-Tim Lobstead, policy director at the World Obesity Federation, arguing against Olympics-related junk food marketing. Appeared Aug. 4, 2016 in The Guardian.

Why we like it: In a skillful use of irony, this media bite contrasts the health and fitness of Olympic athletes with the unhealthy products mass marketed to Olympic viewers. By appealing to our shared values of progress and ability, Lobstead makes the case that junk food marketing during the Olympics is working against these values, not toward them.


cigarette smoke

"If the [tobacco] industry is so keen on harm reduction, why is it spending millions fighting plain packaging?"
-Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the U.K. antismoking group Action on Smoking and Health. Appeared April 28, 2016 in the Wall Street Journal.

Why we like it: Arnott is concise in her indictment of the tobacco industry's hypocrisy. Powerful and memorable, the quote exposes the industry's use of resources to fight the very initiatives it claims to be supporting.



"Our default health behaviors are ingrained in us from the moment we are born. Believing that health is a choice is like believing a person knows how to ride a bicycle simply by looking at one."
-Tara Nolen. Appeared April 3, 2016 in a letter to the editor for The Witchita Eagle.

Why we like it: This media bite uses a vivid, yet relatable analogy to counterbalance the dominant individual "choice" narrative that is entrenched in our society. It challenges the common, industry-perpetuated notion that education is enough to improve health outcomes and provides a strong reframe of the rugged individualism ideal.

Do you have a favorite not on our list? Tweet to us @BMSG or email us at

Want to get inspired with more media bites? View our Top 10 picks from 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Heather Gehlert and Fernando Quintero contributed to this blog.

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