Political debates about the affordability of health care programmes in high-income countries often point to population ageing as a threat to sustainability. Debates in the United States, in particular, highlight concerns about intergenerational equity, whereby spending on older people is perceived as a threat to spending on the young. This paper compares how the problem of health spending is defined in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States by presenting the results of a content analysis of print media during the period 2005–2010. We found that population ageing was cited as an important source of health care cost increases in all three countries but was cited less frequently in Canadian newspapers than in the UK or US papers. Direct claims about intergenerational equity are infrequent among the articles we coded, but newspaper articles in the United States were more likely than those in Canada and the United Kingdom to claim that of high health care spending on older people takes resources away from younger people. In Canada a much larger percentage of articles in our sample either claimed that high health care spending is crowding out other types of government expenditure. Finally, we found that almost no articles in the United States challenged the view that population ageing causes health care spending, whereas in both Canada and the United Kingdom a small, but steady stream of articles challenged the idea that population ageing is to blame for health care spending increases.