Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 73–90 | Cite as

Newspaper reporting on legislative and policy interventions to address obesity: United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom

  • Nola M RiesEmail author
  • Christen Rachul
  • Timothy Caulfield
Original Article


This article analyzes the content of articles in major newspapers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom that discuss legislative and policy measures to control obesity. The aim was to identify and compare measures that attract media attention in the three jurisdictions: the tone of print media coverage, the characterization of obesity, and attitudes toward government interventions to address obesity. We collected 360 articles published between January 1989 and April 2009 in 12 major newspapers: 83 were published in the United States, 85 in Canada, and 192 in the United Kingdom. Articles in the three jurisdictions discussed the nature and causes of obesity in similar terms, but revealed differences in attitudes toward obesity and toward legal and policy interventions to control rising obesity rates. Obesity is reported principally as a lifestyle problem, but articles state (in varying proportions) that individuals, governments, and industry all share a role in addressing modern environments to promote healthier choices.


obesity public policy media government 


  1. Omran, A.R. (1971) The epidemiologic transition: A theory of the epidemiology of population change. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 49 (4): 509–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Olshansky, A.J. and Ault, A.B. (1986) The fourth stage of the epidemiologic transition: The age of delayed degenerative diseases. Milbank Quarterly 64 (3): 355–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gaziano, J.M. (2010) Fifth phase of the epidemiologic transition: The age of obesity and inactivity. Journal of the American Medical Association 303 (3): 275–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Olshansky, S.J. et al (2005) A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. The New England Journal of Medicine 352 (11): 1138–1145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Government Office for Science. (2007) Foresight – Tackling obesities: Future choices – Summary of key messages. October,, accessed 22 July 2010.
  6. Mello, M.M., Studdert, D.M. and Brennan, T.A. (2006) Obesity – The new frontier of public health law. The New England Journal of Medicine 354 (24): 2601–2610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gostin, L.O. (2007) Law as a tool to facilitate healthier lifestyles and prevent obesity. Journal of the American Medical Association 297 (1): 87–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hodge, J.G., Garcia, A.M. and Shah, S. (2008) Legal themes concerning obesity regulation in the United States: Theory and practice. Australia and New Zealand Health Policy 5: 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ries, N.M. and von Tigerstrom, B. (2010) Roadblocks to laws for healthy eating and activity. Canadian Medical Association Journal 182 (7): 687–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. (2009) Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention – Food, Nutrition, and Physical Activity: A Global Perspective. Washington DC: American Institute for Cancer Research.Google Scholar
  11. Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C.R. (2008) Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Gostin, L.O. and Gostin, K.G. (2009) A broader liberty: J.S. Mill, paternalism and the public's health. Public Health 123 (3): 214–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jochelson, K. (2005) Nanny or Steward? The Role of Government in Public Health. London: The King's Fund.Google Scholar
  14. Bloche, M.G. (2004–2005) Obesity and the struggle within ourselves. Georgetown Law Journal 93 (4): 1335–1359.Google Scholar
  15. Callaghan, K. and Schnell, F. (2001) Assessing the democratic debate: How the news media frame elite policy discourse. Political Communication 18 (2): 183–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Walgrave, S. and Van Aelst, P. (2006) The contingency of the mass media's political agenda setting power: Toward a preliminary theory. Journal of Communication 56 (1): 88–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Walgrave, S., Soroka, S. and Nuytemans, M. (2008) The mass media's political agenda-setting power: A longitudinal analysis of media, Parliament, and government in Belgium (1993 to 2000). Comparative Political Studies 41 (6): 814–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Canada House of Commons. (2007) Healthy Weights for Healthy Kids. Report of the standing committee on health, 1 March,, accessed 12 May 2010.
  19. Department of Health (UK). (2004) Choosing health: Making healthy choices easier. 16 November,, accessed 12 May 2010.
  20. United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2001) The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity,, accessed 12 May 2010.
  21. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010) The Surgeon General's vision for a healthy and fit nation. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, January.Google Scholar
  22. British Columbia (Canada) Select Standing Committee on Health. (2006) A Strategy for Combatting Childhood Obesity and Physical Inactivity in British Columbia. Report to the 2nd Session of the 38th Parliament of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 29 November,, accessed 12 May 2010.
  23. UK Government Office for Science. (2007) Foresight: Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report, 2nd edn, London: Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  24. Saguy, A.C. and Almeling, R. (2008) Fat in the fire? Science, the news media, and the ‘obesity epidemic’. Sociological Forum 23 (1): 53–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Boero, N. (2007) All the news that's fat to print: The American ‘obesity epidemic’ and the media. Qualitative Sociology 30 (1): 41–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hilbert, A. and Ried, J. (2009) Obesity in print: An analysis of daily newspapers. Obesity Facts 2: 46–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ferris, J.E. (2003) Parallel discourses and ‘appropriate’ bodies: Media constructions of anorexia and obesity in the cases of Tracey Gold and Carnie Wilson. Journal of Communication Inquiry 27 (3): 256–273.Google Scholar
  28. Brescoll, V.L., Kersh, R. and Brownell, K.D. (2008) Assessing the feasibility and impact of federal childhood obesity policies. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 615: 178–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Institute of Medicine. (2010) Perspectives of United Kingdom and United States Policy Makers on Obesity Prevention: Workshop Summary. Washington DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  30. Lawrence, R.G. (2004) Framing obesity. Harvard International Journal of Press-Politics 9 (3): 56–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Major, L.H. (2009) Break it to me harshly: The effects of intersecting news frames in lung cancer and obesity coverage. Journal of Health Communication 14 (2): 174–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kim, S.H. and Willis, L.A. (2007) Talking about obesity: News framing of who is responsible for causing and fixing the problem. Journal of Health Communication 12 (4): 359–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Caulfield, T., Alfonso, V. and Shelley, J. (2009) Deterministic?: Newspaper representations of obesity and genetics. The Open Obesity Journal 1: 38–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Obesity Prevention Act of 2008. H.R. 7179, 110th Cong. (2007–2008),
  35. Hunter, D.J. (2005) Editorial: Choosing or losing health? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 56: 1010–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nola M Ries
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christen Rachul
    • 1
  • Timothy Caulfield
    • 1
  1. 1.Health Law Institute, 4th Floor, Law Centre, University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Personalised recommendations