Headless, hungry, and unhealthy: a video content analysis of obese persons portrayed in online news

J Health Commun. 2013;18(6):686-702. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.743631. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


The news media has substantial influence on public perceptions of social and health issues. This study conducted a video content analysis to examine portrayals of obese persons in online news reports about obesity. The authors downloaded online news videos about obesity (N = 371) from 5 major news websites and systematically coded visual portrayals of obese and nonobese adults and youth in these videos. The authors found that 65% of overweight/obese adults and 77% of overweight/obese youth were portrayed in a negative, stigmatizing manner across multiple obesity-related topics covered in online news videos. In particular, overweight/obese individuals were significantly more likely than were nonoverweight individuals to be portrayed as headless, with an unflattering emphasis on isolated body parts, from an unflattering rear view of their excess weight, eating unhealthy foods, engaging in sedentary behavior, and dressed in inappropriately fitting clothing. Nonoverweight individuals were significantly more likely to be portrayed positively. In conclusion, obese children and adults are frequently stigmatized in online news videos about obesity. These findings have important implications for public perceptions of obesity and obese persons and may reinforce negative societal weight bias.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Social Perception
  • Stereotyping*
  • Videotape Recording