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Weight Stigma in Britain: The Linguistic Representation of Obesity in Newspapers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2020
Number of pages314
Awarding Institution
  • Nottingham Trent University
Award date16/09/2020
  • Nottingham Trent University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


It is argued that weight discrimination is one the last socially accepted forms of discrimination. In the UK, weight is not listed as a legally protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act. This leaves individuals with obesity with no legislative support when faced with discrimination in places such as employment and education settings. In addition, the media are criticised as being a main catalyst through which negative ideologies about weight are introduced, reproduced, naturalised and advertised, as current journalistic guidelines surrounding discrimination do not make reference to weight. To analyse this further, this research explores the representation of obesity and individuals with obesity in British national newspapers from 2006 - 2016, with a corpus comprised of 16,419 articles and 9,750,159 words. The overarching aims of this research are to identify the prevalent linguistic patterns within the British obesity media narrative and analyse the extent to which they stigmatise obesity and people with obesity. Taking a corpus-assisted approach, keywords and frequent collocation, colligation and concordance patterns are identified using Corpus Linguistic tools, and then critically analysed within the analytical framework of Critical Discourse Analysis. A variety of linguistic features and patterns are analysed including, metaphors, scientific and expert social actors and the reporting verbs which collocate with them and the colligation patterns of verbs, pronouns, adjectives and presupposition triggers. The semantic implications of the prevalent linguistic patterns are negative and dehumanising to individuals with obesity. It is argued this can promote socially divisive ideologies which position people with obesity against the rest of society. In addition, the linguistic patterns analysed all contribute towards a homogenous narrative which focuses on the prevalence of obesity, the health and economic ramifications of obesity and actions to be taken in response to obesity. It is argued this narrative sensationalises and misrepresents the issue of obesity, thereby simultaneously further accentuating the socially divisive ideologies identified at the micro-linguistic level, while misinforming audiences about obesity. Overall, this investigation finds that the British obesity media narrative has a deficit of balanced facts, compassion and respect to those with obesity and a surplus of sensationalism, misrepresentation and stigmatisation. It is argued that, given the influential platform of national newspapers, the sociological impact of this can be devastating and a revaluation of the way in which the issue of obesity is reported on is crucial to address this.