Why Media Literacy Matters – Obesity in America

Have you noticed that on the cover of nearly every issue of Woman’s World magazine there is a statement about weight loss and images of tasty desserts?Woman's World magazine

This is an example of what social psychologist Karen Dill, Ph.D., defines as bipolar food messaging.

Woman’s World magazine is not the only publication featuring “quick fix” weight loss solutions along with images of desserts. According to Dill (n.d), five out of seven popular women’s magazines (Family Circle, First for Women, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s World and Woman’s Day) presented bipolar food messages. Ladies’ Home Journal and Redbook were the two magazines that did not.

This is a major problem that people need to be aware of.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one-third (35.7%) of American adults are overweight or obese.

The CDC also reported that more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese.

People are considered to be obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) above 30. Those with a BMI between 25 to 29.9 are considered to be overweight.

According to an article published by Reuters, the CDC found that obesity rates remained unchanged between 2008 and 2010.

It is only going to get worse. Much worse.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2011), studies have shown that obese children between 10-13 years of age have an 80 percent chance of becoming obese as adults.

It is predicted that half of American adults will be obese by 2030 (Begley, 2012).

There are many health risks associated with obesity such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, respiratory problems and death.

Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between 8 and 12 years of age are exposed to an average of 21 food ads a day, which equals to about 7,600 ads a year. Teenagers are exposed to an average of 17 food ads a year, which equals to about 6,000 ads a year. Among all food ads targeting children and teenagers, 34 percent focuses on taste appeal (KFF, 2007).

Think about what those numbers mean for an adult. Think about the number of ads someone will have been exposed to by the time they reach adulthood.

Media literacy programs can be implemented to help fight obesity.

People need to recognize how media messages affect them. It is important for people to understand how these messages can influence their choices of food, causing weight gain and other health problems.

Media literacy skills will help people acquire the skills to evaluate media messages and make informed decisions about their food purchases.

These programs will help people develop a greater sense of self-efficacy.

People will then have a better understanding of why they choose to eat the foods they do.


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Obesity in Children and Teens. Facts for Families. 79(3/11). 

Begley, S. (2012, September 18). Fat and getting fatter: U.S. obesity rates to soar by 2030. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-obesity-us-idUSBRE88H0RA20120918 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Dill, K. (n.d). Eat Cake and Lose Weight: Bipolar Food Messaging in Woman’s Worldand Other Popular Women’s Magazines. Retrieved from http://drkarendill.wordpress.com/scholarship/vita-and-publications/

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food For Thought. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

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