Television news and current affairs programs are portraying obesity as the individual's responsibility rather than the result of environmental or social influences, according to a study published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli, a researcher at the NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity at the University of Sydney, and her co-authors, studied whether patterns of TV news and current affairs coverage of obesity were supportive of efforts to combat obesity.
They found 66 per cent of TV news items analysed portrayed obesity as the responsibility of the individual and most framed obesity as a problem to be solved by individual nutritional changes, exercise, and surgical or medical interventions.
More than two-thirds of the news items depicted obesity as the result of poor nutrition, down-playing the importance of physical activity as an influence on people's weight.
"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," Dr Bonfiglioli says.
"Television news portrays obesity largely as a personal problem with individual solutions centred mostly on nutrition."
Dr Bonfiglioli says tales of individual weight loss have human-interest news value but they help to reinforce the message of individual responsibility.
"Individual weight-loss success stories may be good news, but they make weight-loss look simple, and the relapses that are all too common in real life are rarely mentioned," she says.
"Such victim blaming takes the spotlight off government and industry responsibility...and may detract attention from the sociopolitical and structural changes needed to tackle overweight and obesity at a population level.
"The news reflects public thinking but it also influences attitudes, so a greater focus on the factors which make it hard to live a healthy lifestyle could support Australians in their efforts to avoid obesity."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.