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Our girth is plain to see: an analysis of newspaper coverage of Australia's future 'fat bomb'
journal contributionposted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by K E Holland, R W Blood, Samantha ThomasSamantha Thomas, S Lewis, P A Komesaroff, D J Castle
The news media plays an important role in making visible and shaping public understandings of health and health risks. In relation to overweight and obesity, it has been suggested that the media is more likely to engage in alarmist reporting in a climate in which it is taken for granted that obesity is an 'epidemic'. This study analyses Australian media coverage of a report on overweight and obesity, Australia's Future 'Fat Bomb': a report on the long-term consequences of Australia's expanding waistline on cardiovascular disease, by one of Australia's leading health and medical research institutes. Our study found that the report was consistently framed across media outlets as showing that Australia is the 'fattest nation' in the world, having overtaken the Americans. This is despite the fact that the Fat Bomb study did not include international comparisons and was based only on data from middle-aged Australians. Because reports of increasing rates of obesity had already been widely covered in the media, the press needed to find a new way of signifying the problem, which was provided by comments made by its lead author in publicising the report. Consistent with previous research, there was a notable absence of critical commentary on the study and a failure to test the claims of its lead author. We conclude that this reporting could have contributed to a policy environment in which the perceived threat of obesity is deemed to be so great that efforts to contain it may be subjected to less scrutiny than they warrant. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.