Fat in the Fire? Science, the News Media, and the “Obesity Epidemic”

Sociological Forum, Volume 23, Issue 1, pages 53–83
Abigail Saguy



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In recent years, the “obesity epidemic” has emerged as a putative public health crisis. This article examines the interconnected role of medical science and news reporting in shaping the way obesity is framed as a social problem. Drawing on a sample of scientific publications on weight and health, and press releases and news reporting on these publications, we compare and contrast social problem frames in medical science and news reporting. We find substantial overlap in science and news reporting, but the news media do dramatize more than the studies on which they are reporting and are more likely than the original science to highlight individual blame for weight. This is partly due to the news media’s tendency to report more heavily on the most alarmist and individual-blaming scientific studies. We find some evidence that press releases also shape which articles receive media coverage and how they are framed.