The newspaper article, ‘Parents told to fat check their children’ (Iggulden and Goodchild, 2007) raises the public health issue of obesity. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) published guidance on obesity in adults and children in December 2006, recognising obesity is a complex problem in the twenty first century (NICE, 2006). The underlying message the article is trying to communicate is that schools are looking to become health-supporting environments (Scriven and Garman, 2007).
The article has targeted parents of school age children, using an authoritarian tone, this can be seen from the first words in the tile, ‘Parents told to’. The article has used metaphors of war to represent obesity. Words such as ‘war on obesity’, ‘crisis’ and ‘threatens the health of a generation’ are all part of a fear appeal (Earle et al, 2007). At present, it is almost impossible to pick up a daily paper without being exposed to headlines featuring words such as ‘time-bomb’ or the present generation of children will die before their parents (Marsh, 2004).
The news article is implying responsibility is with the parents, stating, ‘parents can no longer tell if children are fat because being overweight is the norm’. The media have been responsible for perpetuating the myth that obesity and overweight are not just medical conditions but moral problems (Earle et al, 2007). There is a long cultural history of the association between fatness and morality and the responsibility of families, especially mothers for food and health (Gard and Wright, 2005 as cited in Earle, 2007).
Secondly, the article could have a ‘forbidden fruit effect’ with the reader. This means individuals may seek to deliberately defy the health warning (Earle et al, 2007). An example of this is the mass media campaign surrounding Jamie Oliver’s campaign to make school dinners more nutritious in 2005 (BBC, 2007). There was a backlash from some parents whose children struggled to accept the healthy menus, “because they don’t eat this kind of food at home”. The parents would turn up at the school gate at dinner time, with burgers and chips for their children (BBC, 2005).
The above article reflects this, with a view from the National Parent Teachers Association, “This is just going to send responsible adults in to a panic and will be ignored by people who already feed their children a poor diet” (Iggulden and Goodchild, 2007). In summary, the article has negatively targeted parents by presenting the public health issue of obesity in an authoritarian way. Today’s population are used to making personal choices about their lifestyle, therefore, the authority in this article may be diminished (WHO, 2005).
In the article, obesity is assumed to be the fault of the parents, for not giving the children the right food. Obesity is often discussed as being a result of people or parents being lazy (Marsh, 2004). The article has illustrated the health message of ‘obesity’ may be clear and simple, however, it may be interpreted differently depending on the attitude and belief of the reader (Costello and Haggart, 2003). In this instance, the use of fear appeal could trigger a desire for the reader to eliminate the danger posed by the message (Maibech and Parrott, 1995).