Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 41–60

All the News that’s Fat to Print: The American “Obesity Epidemic” and the Media

Original Paper


In the last twenty years scientific, medical, and public health interest in obesity has skyrocketed. Increasingly the term “epidemic” is being used in the media, medical journals, and public health policy literature to describe the current prevalence of fatness in the U.S. Using social scientific literature on epidemics, social problems, and feminist theories of the body, this paper traces the historical emergence of the “obesity epidemic” through an analysis of 751 articles on obesity published in The New York Times between 1990 and 2001. Through the identification and analysis of three discursive pairings I argue that the “obesity epidemic” is a part of a new breed of what I call “post-modern epidemics,” epidemics in which unevenly medicalized phenomena lacking a clear pathological basis get cast in the language and moral panic of “traditional” epidemics. I show how this moral panic together with the location of the problem within the individual precludes a more macro level approach to health and health care delivery at a time when health care services are being dismantled or severely cut back.


Obesity Epidemic Medicalization Public health Risk 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Assistant Professor of Sociology, Dudley Moorhead Hall 241 One Washington SquareSan José State UniversitySan JoséUSA

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