Objective: To examine whether television news and current affairs coverage of overweight and obesity frames obesity in ways that support or oppose efforts to combat obesity.
Design and setting: A content and framing analysis of a structured sample of 50 television news and current affairs items about overweight and obesity broadcast by five free-to-air television channels in New South Wales between 2 May and 31 October 2005.
Main outcome measures: Dominant discourses about causes of overweight and obesity; proposed solutions and location of responsibility for the problem; the age-group focus of television items; the relative prominence of stakeholders; and the aspects of obesity which attract news attention.
Results: Most television items (72%) framed obesity as a problem of poor nutrition. Obesity was largely seen as the responsibility of individuals (66% of items). Just over half of news items (52%) focused only on adults while 26% focused only on children. Obesity was framed largely as a problem to be solved by individual nutritional changes, exercise and surgical and medical interventions.
Conclusions: While individual lifestyle is crucial to controlling weight, the research community now recognises the importance of sociocultural and environmental factors as drivers of the obesity epidemic. However, television news portrays obesity largely as an individual problem with individual solutions centred mostly on nutrition. Media emphasis on personal responsibility and diet may detract attention from the sociopolitical and structural changes needed to tackle overweight and obesity at a population level.