In many ways the media drives the thought process of the general public. What is reported and, more importantly, how it’s reported plays a key role in how we can look at a certain subject such as politics or social issues. In many cases, it can lead to division amongst the masses. It’s no different when talking about the media’s role in how obesity is viewed.
Yes, just like many other issues, the media has an influence on how obesity is viewed in the United States. Researchers from Chapman University, UCLA, and Stanford, sought to examine the effect media has on the general population’s view on obesity-related policies as well as their bias towards obese people. They did this by conducting experiments where people read news articles with rhetoric that put obesity in a certain frames. The context of the articles touched on the following subjects:
• “Fat Rights,” which emphasizes the idea that obesity is a positive form of body size diversity and that discrimination and prejudice is unacceptable
• “Health at Every Size,” which emphasizes the fact that body fat level is only weakly associated with health once a person’s exercise and dietary choices are taken into account (i.e. a person can be both “fit and fat”). This viewpoint encourages people to focus less on what the scale says and more on exercising and eating healthy
• “Public Health Crisis,” which presents obesity as a public health crisis warranting government intervention
• “Personal Responsibility,” which suggests bad food and exercise choices — as opposed to genetics or social factors — make people fat.
What they found was people that read the “fat rights” or “health at every size” articles said women could be healthier at a bigger weight at a far higher rate (65 and 71 percent) than those who read the “public health crisis” and “personal responsibility” articles.
“This is worrisome because there is extensive evidence that weight-based stigma negatively affects health, equal access to employment, earnings, education, and medical care,” says David Frederick, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Chapman University and lead author of the study.
A spotlight is shining on overweight people as of late and America’s obesity epidemic has been at the forefront of a lot of conversation. Outside of the potential health risks obesity may bring, being overweight could also affect other parts of a person’s life from their earning potential to insurance rates. And with the emergence of “fat-shaming,” which is criticizing and ridiculing someone simply because they are overweight, being overweight appears to be more than a health issue; it can be viewed instead as a taboo and something that should be looked down upon. Some will say the media has done nothing to dissuade such feelings, but rather reinforce them.
It’s a lot easier for decision makers to make the choices they want to make when they have the backing of the people it could possibly affect. One way to get that backing is to have people view the issue from a certain lens — something the media is well equipped to do. From employers to politicians, if the people are with you, that’s most of the battle to navigate things to your point of view. The media can play a key role in whether something can happen or not. The media has that power. Whether they use it for good or evil is subject to interpretation.