The American public holds mixed views about the desirability of government action to combat childhood obesity. The framing of coverage by news media may affect citizens' views about the causes of childhood obesity and the most appropriate strategies for addressing the problem. We analyzed the content of a 20% random sample of news stories on childhood obesity published in 18 national and regional news sources in the United States over a 10-year period (2000-2009). News media coverage patterns indicated that by 2003, childhood obesity was firmly on the news media's agenda and remained so until 2007, after which coverage decreased. We identified changes in news media framing over time and significant differences according to news source. News coverage of causes of childhood obesity that were linked to the food and beverage industry increased in the early years of the study but then decreased markedly in later years. Similarly, mention of solutions to the problem of childhood obesity that involved restrictions on the food and beverage industry followed a reverse U-shaped pattern over the 10-year study period. News stories consistently mentioned individual behavioral changes most often as a solution to the problem of childhood obesity. Television news was more likely than other news sources to focus on behavior change as a solution, whereas newspapers were more likely to identify system-level solutions such as changes that would affect neighborhoods, schools, and the food and beverage industry.
- Childhood obesity
- News media