Despite the salience of health disparities in media and policy discourse, little previous research has investigated if imagery associating an illness with a certain racial group influences public perceptions. This study evaluated the influence of the media's presentation of the causes of type 2 diabetes and its implicit racial associations on attitudes toward people with diabetes and preferences toward research spending. Survey participants who viewed an article on genetic causation or social determinants of diabetes were more likely to support increased government spending on research than those viewing an article with no causal language, while participants viewing an article on behavioral choices were more likely to attribute negative stereotypes to people with diabetes. Participants who viewed a photo of a black woman accompanying the article were less likely to endorse negative stereotypes than those viewing a photo of a white woman, but those who viewed a photo of a glucose-testing device expressed the lowest negative stereotypes. The effect of social determinants language was significantly different for blacks and whites, lowering stereotypes only among blacks. Emphasizing the behavioral causes of diabetes, as is common in media coverage, may perpetuate negative stereotypes. While drawing attention to the social determinants that shape these behaviors could mitigate stereotypes, this strategy is unlikely to influence the public uniformly.

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