USA Weekend is revving up its health coverage in response to skyrocketing revenues from pharmaceutical advertising.

Gannett’s weekly newsmagazine, which runs in 603 newspapers with a combined circulation of 22.7 million, saw ad pages devoted to pharmaceutical promotion up 102% year-on-year for the first quarter. The rise was a big factor in the launch of a health supplement, USA Weekend HealthSmart, which drew $3.5 million in advertising on its first run in June.

USA Weekend is just going where its readers are, said Marcia Bullard, president and CEO of USA Weekend, and pharmaceutical advertisers are following. The company operates a survey of 13,000 readers from across the country. “When we ask what they’re interested in reading about, health comes out as the number one topic,” said Bullard. “We think newspaper readers’ interest reflects that, and we’ve increased coverage as a result.”

With an average reader age of 46, USA Weekend targets readers ages 25–45—a coveted demographic for newspapers, whose readership is aging, and a surprisingly health-conscious one.
“We see a lot of interest both in treatment and prevention,” said Bullard. “Even our food
coverage is targeted toward healthy eating.”

The supplement was an expansion of USA Weekend‘s Health-Smart column by Dr. Tedd Mitchell, which the firm recently took weekly. The company will run another in October
and could take them quarterly in 2007.

The 34-page June supplement ran 17 ad pages, including placements from AstraZeneca for Pulmicort, Crestor, Seroquel and Nexium, Pfizer for Celebrex and Ortho-McNeil for Topamax. The supplement, carried in 76 newspapers with a total circulation of 7.5 million, also drew ads from the American Medical Association, Bose and Dell.

Drug advertising comprises more than a quarter of the magazine’s advertising revenue, and health science coverage makes up 16.3% of editorial content, making it the second biggest coverage area for the title behind entertainment and celebrity news.