17 December 2008

Media: search filters and fat panic

I was just mooching around The Guardian's search pages and filters just now and I noticed some stuff that I'm going to share here. It would be really interesting to compare these search results with those of different media outlets, maybe in different countries, from different political perspectives (The Guardian is a centre-left newspaper in the UK).

I searched on "Obesity" to see where and when fat panic stories were published this year. Sure, the search may have picked up stories that aren't entirely hostile to fat people, but Obesity is a pretty loaded term, not really acceptable amongst fat activists, and is generally used to support the idea of fat being a problem that needs to be cured by weight loss.

So I searched on Obesity and then I started playing around with some of the search filters.

Publication year interested me. One of the reasons that there is just one meagre result for Obesity in 1998 could be because Guardian online was only just beginning at that point and there wasn't much content available. The growth in the number of Obesity results in ten years is really startling, however, almost doubling each year between 1999 and 2004, with a millennial plateau in the middle. Apparently we are in the grip of an Obesity EpidemicTM, although these results suggest that it is more of an epidemic of fat panic reporting.

2004 was a significant year because it coincides with the World Health Organization's report, Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic, which is likely to have kicked-off this current wave of fat panic. The number of Guardian results for Obesity in 2004, their highest ever, seems to bear that out.

Publication months for 2008 confirm my suspicions about fat reporting peaking in January, the month of new year diet resolutions; and July, the beginning of the journalistic Silly Season, where any old crap gets published because everyone's on holiday, and also the season of beach body anxiety.

The section results for 2008 show how Obesity has infiltrated areas where you might be somewhat sceptical about there being a connection. Journalists, got a dreary story? Jazz it up by adding a pinch of fat panic! Hence the multitude of Sport and Environment stories, and entries in Money, Art and Design. Needless to say, there are no results for "fat liberation" or "size acceptance."

Finally, the juxtaposition of hard news and Sponsored Links seems particularly telling. It made me think about how weight loss industries, and private eating disorder clinics, are cashing-in on the back of fat panic in the media. This screengrab seems to illustrate this idea really well.

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