Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 5-2016


Obesity is an important health issue, and understanding both its origins and its remedies is critical. More than 78 million people in the United States — more than one- third the nation’s population — are obese, making obesity one of the most newsworthy health concerns of the time. The first step in addressing public health issues is to inform the public, for which news media act as the primary source. However, news media overwhelmingly frame obesity reports through a lens of individual responsibility, which blames people for their eating habits while ignoring systemic factors of obesity such as food industry pressures, food insecurity, and low incomes. Maine has the highest rate of obesity in New England, with nearly 29 percent of adults in the state considered obese. News sources attribute individuals’ weight to their behaviors and largely ignore social constraints of individuals or other systemic responsibilities for addressing obesity. Frame analysis of articles from Maine’s four most prominent newspapers, the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News, Morning Sentinel, and Sun Journal reveals the five dominant frames through which obesity is discussed. These frames include public health and a medicalized obesity “epidemic,” a stern or nurturing parental government, national identity and the “Ideal American” citizen, the toxic environment of an overabundant industrial food system, “fun” versus fear and sadness, and normative education. Taken together, these frames underscore a neoliberal discourse that works to support culturally- held values of national identity, masked by an illusion of choice.