Qualitative content analysis of online news media coverage of weight loss surgery and related reader comments


Address for correspondence: Ms NM Glenn, Sedentary Living Lab, Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta, 6-55B General Services Building, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2H1. E-mail: nglenn@ualberta.ca


The media has the ability to affect public opinion and policy direction. Prevalence of morbid obesity in Canada is increasing; as is the only effective long-term treatment, weight loss surgery (WLS). Limited research has explored media re/presentations of WLS. The purpose of this study was to examine national online news coverage (and reader comments) of WLS using content analysis. We sought to understand the dominant messages being conveyed within the news texts and reader comments, specifically whose voice was represented, who was the intended audience and what was the overall tone. Articles and comments were retrieved from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news web site and analysed using line-by-line techniques. Articles were predominantly ‘positive/supportive’ (63%) in tone and frequently presented the voices and opinions of ‘experts’ conveying a biomedical perspective. Comments were overwhelmingly ‘negative’ (56%) and often derogatory including such language as ‘piggy’ and ‘fatty’. Comments were almost exclusively anonymous (99%) and were frequently directed at other commenters (33%) and ‘fat’ people (6%). The potentially problematic nature of media framing and reader comments, particularly as they could relate to weight-based stigmatization and discrimination is discussed.