The median readership age was higher for women's magazines than for men's magazines (). We identified 53 cognitive health articles: 27 in women's magazines and 26 in men's magazines. Among the women's magazines, Good Housekeeping had the most articles per 1,000 pages. Among the men's magazines, Men's Journal had the most articles per 1,000 pages ().
Characteristics of Top-Circulating Women's and Men's Magazines, 2006-2007
Number of Cognitive Health Articles in Top-Circulating Women's and Men's Magazines, 2006-2007
Articles in both magazine types were featured primarily in health sections. Women's magazines contained longer articles than did men's magazines (). Most articles were contributed by freelance writers. Main sources cited for content were colleges/universities, doctors, and researchers. Doctors were quoted most often, followed by researchers. Of 13 articles that provided contact information for additional resources (eg, Web site links or telephone numbers), 8 were in women's magazines.
Characteristics of Cognitive Health Articles in Top-Circulating Women's and Men's Magazines, 2006-2007
The most frequent recommendations for maintaining cognitive health were diet, multiple behaviors, vitamins, mind exercises, and treatment (). More focus was on prevention than treatment in articles in women's magazines (85%) and men's magazines (81%). Overall, the most frequent content areas, defined as 75% or more of article narrative, were diet alone or multiple behaviors including diet, physical activity, cognitive activity, and vitamins/supplements.
Figure 1 Most frequent recommendations for maintaining cognitive health in top-circulating women's and men's magazines, 2006-2007. The figure presents the percentage of articles focused on these recommendations. Because less commonly occurring recommendations (more ...)
Most articles in magazines (women's, men's) were illustrated (93%, 77%), showing people (63%, 54%); vitamins (15%, 12%); and foods (41%, 42%), including fish (7%, 15%); fruits (19%, 12%); vegetables (11%, 12%); grains (7%, 0%); nuts (4%, 4%); and meats (4%, 4%). Only 1 article in a women's magazine and 3 in men's magazines (12%) showed people engaged in physical activity. Only 5 articles in women's magazines (19%) included illustrations or photographs of people interacting. Most illustrations were neutral to positive in tone (44%, 69%), showing pictures relevant to the health behaviors or items discussed in the article (eg, eating, drinking).
Articles on diet
Articles on diet alone in women's and men's magazines (30%, 27%) mentioned a wide variety of foods and beverages, including fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (eg, salmon, mackerel, sardines), green tea, red wine, coffee, and green leafy vegetables. Articles in women's magazines also mentioned low-fat yogurt with blueberries, oatmeal, and curry (as a source of turmeric). Articles in men's magazines discussed the health benefits of mushrooms and fruit smoothies.
Foods and beverages in these articles were often portrayed as brain enhancers that helped with mood balance, improved communication between brain cells, and protected against cognitive decline and memory loss. Although articles in women's and men's magazines may have included lines such as "according to a new study" or "researchers discovered . . .," specific scientific studies were not often cited. All of the articles that focused on diet included an illustration of the food or beverages being discussed.
Articles on multiple behaviors
Articles concerning multiple behaviors (19%, 19%) most often discussed diet, physical activity, and cognitive activities. Articles in women's magazines discussed multiple strategies to help prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, recommending a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, fish with omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, limited fats and cholesterol, and limited alcohol and caffeine; they also recommended maintaining a healthy weight. Examples of physical activity included yoga, gardening, walking (20-30 minutes per day), tennis, and dance. Crossword puzzles, reading, journaling, learning a new musical instrument, or playing board games were presented as ways to enhance brain cells and delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Social interactions such as dancing lessons and volunteering were recommended to stimulate the brain.
Five articles in men's magazines focused on multiple behaviors. These articles contained information about cognitive health and chronic diseases (eg, heart disease, stroke, cancer). Similar to those described in women's magazines, articles provided specific examples of healthy behaviors.
Additional behaviors discussed in women's and men's magazines (women's, men's) included getting enough sleep, limiting stress, and not smoking. Some articles in the multiple-behaviors category presented scientific evidence to substantiate the recommendations. Articles in this category referenced specific universities where research was conducted (40%, 60%) or doctors who were knowledgeable about cognitive health (20%, 10%). Only 1 article, in a women's magazine, cited the journals where research on behaviors and cognitive health was published.
Articles on alternative treatments
Articles that only focused on vitamins/nutritional supplements described the use of vitamins and herbs for the prevention or treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Specific supplements mentioned in articles in women's and men's magazines were omega-3 fatty acids, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplements, and vitamin B12. The benefits of DHEA were described as "anti-aging," and reducing cholesterol levels and memory loss. Taking large doses of vitamin B12 daily was described as helpful for memory.
Specific cognitive health topics discussed
The most frequently described characteristics of cognitive health in women's and men's magazines were memory, staying alert and sharp, and Alzheimer's disease ().
Figure 2 Most prevalent characteristics of cognitive health in top-circulating women's and men's magazines, 2006-2007. The figure presents the percentage of articles focused on these characteristics. Because less commonly occurring characteristics are not shown, (more ...)
Articles that discussed mental alertness or staying sharp included information about improving mental focus and cognitive skills. Content included physical activity (eg, aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling), diet (eg, fish, coffee, nuts, wine, green tea), cognitive activity (eg, puzzles, reading newspapers), social activity, meditation, and sleep. Of 6 articles in women's magazines on staying alert, 3 focused on heart-healthy and balanced diets; of 6 such articles in men's magazines, 2 did so.
Eight articles in women's magazines and 4 in men's magazines focused solely on memory loss or strategies to improve memory and reduce risk for cognitive decline. Articles in women's and men's magazines mentioned the link between diet and memory. These articles recommended a variety of dietary ingredients (coffee, green tea), described purported benefits of nutritional supplements (ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, epigallocatechin-3-gallate), and discussed types of mental stimulation (eg, playing sudoku, learning new languages). None of these articles on memory mentioned if or where referenced studies had been published.
Although fewer articles in women's and men's magazines (37%, 50%, respectively) discussed Alzheimer's disease, a slightly larger percentage (19% vs 15%) of articles in women's magazines focused solely on the disease. Articles in women's magazines discussed the protective effects of healthy diets, healthy weight, and mind exercises (eg, puzzles, reading). Alzheimer's disease content in articles in men's magazines that discussed multiple chronic conditions (eg, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease) included Alzheimer's risk and family history, and a "diagnostic tool using skin samples currently in clinical trials." Articles in women's and men's magazines included stories of family members whose loved ones had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when they were aged 40-49.