Monitoring the 'diabetes epidemic': A framing analysis of United Kingdom print news 1993-2013

Kristen Foley, Darlene McNaughton, Paul Ward

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Introduction The view that we are in the midst of a global diabetes epidemic has gained considerable ground in recent years and is often linked to the prior 'obesity epidemic'. This research explored how the diabetes epidemic was represented in United Kingdom (UK) news over the same time period that the obesity epidemic was widely reported. The research was motivated by a sociological interest in how postmodern 'epidemics' synergise with each other amidst broader political, economic, moral and sociocultural discourses. Method We analysed three time-bound samples of UK news articles about diabetes: 1993 (n = 19), 2001 (n = 119) and 2013 (n = 324). Until now, UK media has had the least attention regarding portrayal of diabetes. We adopted an empathically neutral approach and used a dual method approach of inductive thematic analysis and deductive framing analysis. The two methods were triangulated to produce the findings. Results Framing of diabetes moved from medical in 1993 to behavioural in 2001, then societal in 2013. By 2001 obesity was conceptualised as causal to diabetes, rather than a risk factor. Between 2001 and 2013 portrayals of the modifiable risk factors for diabetes (i.e. diet, exercise and weight) became increasingly technical. Other risk factors like age, family history and genetics faded during 2001 and 2013, while race, ethnicity and culture were positioned as states of 'high risk' for diabetes. The notion of an 'epidemic' of diabetes 'powered up' these concerns from an individual problem to a societal threat in the context of obesity as a well-known health risk. Discussion and conclusion Portraying diabetes and the diabetes epidemic as anticipated consequences of obesity enlivens the heightened awareness to future risks in everyday life brought about during the obesity epidemic. The freeform adoption of the 'epidemic' term in contemporary health discourse appears to foster individual and societal dependence on biomedicine, giving it political, economic and divisive utility.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0225794
Number of pages27
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright: © 2020 Foley et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Diabetes mellitus
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • childhood obesity
  • Ethnic epidemiology

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