From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Drivers and policy solutions to the obesity epidemic

Obesity is one of the fastest growing and most serious public health challenges facing the world in the 21st Century. In 2007 the UK government commissioned the Foresight Report on obesity, which highlighted Britain’s escalating weight problem. The authors estimated that obesity rates doubled in Britain over the last 25 years, with nearly a quarter of adults now obese, and warned that if no action is taken 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children will be obese by 2050, cautioning that: “Britain could be a mainly obese society”. There is general agreement that obesity’s high medical, psychological and social costs, its multiplicity of causes and its persistence from childhood into adulthood make the case for early prevention. However, less agreement exists on the optimum prevention strategies for tackling the problem. Over the past decade media interest in obesity stories has increased and the media are integral to constructions of the obesity epidemic through communicating stories about the nation’s expanding waistlines to the public. The news media play an important role in making visible the obesity epidemic and in shaping public understandings about the health risks associated with obesity. However, popular views on the issues can draw on stereotypes, present simplified descriptions of the problem, and create an unrealistic assessment of the solutions. Thus these oversimplifications of the obesity problem do not always reflect the current state of scientific evidence and understanding.

We have conducted two research projects examining newsprint media construction of the obesity epidemic in UK national newspapers. In the first project we conducted a large-scale study of newspaper articles (n=2414) to examine the evolution and framing of the obesity epidemic over the past 15 years in British newspapers to identify trends in news coverage about the causal drivers of, and potential solutions to, the obesity epidemic.  In the second project we conducted visual content analysis of 119 images illustrating UK newspaper articles about obesity. The data were analysed with regard to two seemingly conflicting phenomena: the normalisation of obesity and the stigmatisation of obesity. Our analysis illustrates ways in which news media reporting on obesity may usefully highlight to policymakers a growing public discourse calling for regulatory change aimed at tackling the obesogenic environment.



Patterson C, Hilton S. Normalisation and stigmatisation of obesity in UK newspapers: a visual content analysis. The Open Obesity Journal 2013;5:82-91

open access  


Hilton S, Patterson C, Teyhan A. Escalating coverage of obesity in UK newspapers: the evolution and framing of the ‘obesity epidemic’ from 1996 to 2010. Obesity 2012;20:1688-1695

pubmed  open access  

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