Media Slave

Media: Friend or Foe in Progress on Obesity?

If you skim headlines of health reporting on obesity, you might think fake news is creeping in. But what’s the bigger picture? How does media shape ideas about obesity? Fatima Cody Stanford, Zujaja Tauqeer, and Ted Kyle offer a new review in Current Obesity Reports.

Body Positivity

The subject of body positivity might be one area where popular media is helping. Writers on health and popular culture have certainly played a role to increase awareness. Fat shaming has become a popular handle for the more academic concept of weight bias. Thanks to some helpful reporting and public interest, this buzz phrase has risen into public awareness.

Myths and Misunderstanding

On the other hand, health reporters get poor marks on factual reporting about obesity. Stanford et al note that:

Errors in scientific literature tend to become magnified in health science reporting on the topics of obesity, nutrition, and physical activity. Public ideas about health often rest on a foundation of scientifically incomplete knowledge. This becomes the basis for cultural judgments about fatness and obesity.

Thus, we suffer with headlines like “Germs Love Diet Soda.”

Policy Issues

Reporting provides a public frame of reference for making policy about obesity. Unfortunately, that reporting sets up a very narrow frame. And thus, the flawed thinking persists that food policy alone can solve the health problem of obesity.

Catching Up

The media is catching up on the critical issue of weight bias and fat shaming. Offensive stereotypes are less common than they were ten years ago. They haven’t disappeared yet. But they’re fading a bit. In some cases, thoughtful health reporters are doing good work to enhance public understanding of obesity. However, cheesy headlines still distort the truth about obesity and health.

Responsible media outlets need to catch up with the facts about obesity. But in part, we are the problem. Media will serve up what the public demands. We should expect more.

Click here for the paper by Stanford et al.

Media Slave, photograph © Porsche Brosseau / flickr

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April 12, 2018

3 Responses to “Media: Friend or Foe in Progress on Obesity?”

  1. April 12, 2018 at 2:33 pm, Harry Minot said:

    My monthly radio programs on WPKN/Bridgeport CT are the very tiniest corner of “media”. But they are heard. My most recent program included an edited excerpt from the podcast “She’s All Fat” in which April Quioh and Sophie Carter-Kahn discuss the problems which fat people encounter in their interactions with health care “professionals”. That segment begins around 1:51. As a fat person I experienced disdain and dismissal from various Doctors. But I refrained from describing those in this particular program in favor of April And Sophie.

  2. April 12, 2018 at 2:36 pm, Harry Minot said:

    …and here is that segment outside of the program’s context:

    • April 12, 2018 at 6:18 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Harry!