Representations of Obesity in the News

Obesity is a global health concern. In the United Kingdom (UK), rates of obesity have been in a state of continuous growth for several years, both for adults and children, with half of the people living in the UK projected to be obese by the year 2030. As a consequence of rising rates of obesity (amongst other things), the prevalence of several life-shortening conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, are also on the increase. In fact, in the context of Europe more widely, obesity is second only to smoking as a leading cause of premature death. In view of this, obesity constitutes a persistently newsworthy topic for the media, whose coverage of the issue shows no signs of abating. However, this coverage has been criticised for stigmatising people with obesity and rarely reporting on the issue in a way that foregrounds the lived perspectives of those people who experience it.

The aim of this project is to examine how the topic of obesity, including the people who experience it, is represented in the UK media. We will be focussing primarily on two contexts: (1) news reporting of obesity and (2) readers’ responses to those reports in the form of online, below-the-line comments. We will be taking a corpus linguistic approach, combined with qualitative perspectives from (critical) discourse studies, to interrogate the ways that obesity is represented in media texts. We will be working closely with the charity Hoop UK to help steer our analytical focus, as well as to disseminate our findings to members of the public, campaign groups and media outlets. Our eventual aim is to work with representatives from this latter group to encourage and advise them on how to report on this topical public health issue – which is likely to garner more and more media attention – in a less stigmatising and more sensitive way in the future.

Team

Professor Paul Baker (Principal Investigator)

Dr Gavin Brookes (Senior Research Associate)

Dr Dimitrinka Atanasova (Co-Investigator, Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University)

Dr Garrath Williams (Co-Investigator, Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University)