NPR Public Editor : NPR
NPR Public Editor Carlos Carmonamedina
In 2013, the American Medical Association officially changed its stance on obesity, admonishing medical practitioners that the condition is a chronic condition requiring medication and not a personal failure. In 2018, the National Institutes of Health published a paper stating that the media has not yet caught up with the AMA and instead continues to perpetuate the false belief that obesity is simply a matter of self-control.
In 2023, health journalists around the world are finally catching up with the science and exploring and explaining the societal baggage that often hinders fact-based conversations about body shape.
Today we're sending two letters to listeners about NPR stories. The first story is an interview with the author of a newly published book on the cultural myth of “fat” people. The second story is about the effects of a new and expensive diet drug that wasn't always covered by insurance. Both listeners made comments and asked questions that poked the gap between cultural assumptions and medical knowledge.
We took a closer look at both stories, as well as NPR's work on the topic of obesity. Read on to find out what we found.
We highlight two examples from NPR news. The first is to examine the link between workplace relationships and job satisfaction. The second is a series of stories about a virus research station in Guatemala that aims to discover the next pandemic.
Here are a few words that resonated with us from the public editor's inbox. Letters have been edited for length and clarity.You can share your questions and concerns with us by NPR Contact Page.
Report stories about weight, shape and health
Listeners recently wrote to us about two very different NPR stories related to weight coverage. We analyzed the two stories and asked some journalists what they should consider when reporting on these issues.
Alex Park wrote on January 9: All Things Considered has fallen into doublethink, obesity has become the norm, and journalism no longer needs to be rigorously questioned around important public health issues. interview Juana Summers with Aubrey Gordon…Let Gordon see obesity as a health choice, not a social health crisis. … All Things Considered spends a lot of time identifying and calling out anti-science bias around climate change arguments, but amplifies anti-health propaganda and ignores science where “identity” is involved.
host juana summers All circumstances are considered The interview with author and podcast co-host Aubrey Gordon focuses on body image and understanding what “fat” means. (A longer version is also given by life suit .) Here's a talk about Gordon's new book, “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People.
at the beginning Air Traffic Management Bureau In the article, Gordon makes it clear that obesity is not a choice: “Researchers have been clear for years that our body size is not simply, or even primarily, the result of our own choices.” She also discusses body mass index Scientific flaws in measurement or BMI.
this Air Traffic Management Bureau The interview also covered Gordon's thoughts on the word “fat.”The word “obesity” does not appear Air Traffic Management Bureau piece.
The focus of this story is aptly on the societal impact of “obesity”. It's a topic worth exploring, and Gordon is a reliable source, based on her personal experience and her recent work as a writer on the topic. Finally, given that the average American is overweight, oversized, or “fat,” it's important, as Gordon puts it, to explore the cultural burdens placed on a large segment of the population.
Jessica Rainey wrote on Jan 30: First, I thank NPR for trying to describe today's problems comprehensively and accurately, which is why I [Morning Edition's] Obesity and weight loss are oversimplified. … [It] Reducing the question to “maybe I should try changing my diet and exercising on my own…” as if that's all it takes to lose weight, as if it's just a matter of willpower. …please do better.
Alison Aubrey's morning edition A report on “breakthrough” weight-loss drug Wegovy focuses on the challenges some patients face in getting insurance to pay for it. The story laid bare a conundrum: The drug was expensive, $1,400 a month, and if patients stopped taking it, the weight rebounded.
When he interviewed her about Aubrey's reporting, morning edition Host Steve Inskeep said, “Well, some people might listen and say, well, I really shouldn't start taking this drug. Maybe I should try changing my diet or getting more exercise myself.” Aubrey responded Say, “I think most of us would like to diet and exercise to lose weight. But we live in a society where people are sedentary, partly because of our jobs. …The unhealthiest foods are the most Cheap food.”
Inskeep's statement is not intended to imply that willpower is the solution. (NPR reported on the link between obesity and other factors, such as genetics.) Instead, he posed a question that many listeners might ask when they learn about Wegovy. Aubrey's responses and the interviews she conducted offer nuanced perspectives on what it takes to lose weight and, more specifically, how health care choices affect the affordability of drugs like Wegovy.
NPR's coverage of weight and obesity
These two stories are just some of the many stories NPR has published about “fat,” BMI, and obesity.
“As with any other topic, NPR reporters need to respect their subject, interview multiple sources, and make sure their Reporting is based on science.”
“There are stories about ‘weight' and health, and there are stories about ‘weight' and body image. I think the distinction is often stark,” he wrote. “There is a lot of evidence that weight is a health issue, and we should report it as such. When a story is reported about a person trying to achieve a certain appearance, regardless of the possible health effects, we report that as well.”
The word “obesity” is rarely used by NPR reporters and is often enclosed in quotation marks, Carvin said. He says “overweight” and “obese” are more accurate, and NPR generally attributes the definitions of those words to the CDC, while providing more context.
What Other Journalists Say About Terminology
The AP Style Manual currently has no specific guidance on terms like “overweight,” “obese,” or “obese.” AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke wrote in an email that the topic was on their list to consider in the coming year. The team did a lot of research and discussion when developing the guidelines, she said.
“In general, we also recommend using terms that the individual or group prefers,” Froke said. “This may apply to terms like ‘obesity,' ‘obesity,' and ‘overweight.'”
We also spoke to independent science journalist Tara Haelle, who advises reporting on medical research, including on obesity, through the Healthcare Journalists Association. She admits the topic is challenging: “‘Obesity' is a curse word for some people. And ‘obesity' is a curse word for others. As a reporter, this becomes very challenging because ‘obesity' is a medical term. ’ But by being more precise, journalists can be more accurate and inclusive, she said.
Haelle advises journalists:
- Use more nuanced language to describe medical risks due to weight, size, or obesity. While weight or size may correlate with someone's metabolic health, studies show they don't always do so, she said. Journalists can use terms such as “overweight and medically unhealthy” or “metabolically unhealthy obese” to be more precise when describing a person's associated condition. These conditions may include high blood pressure or insulin resistance.
- Help the audience understand the weight perspective presented, such as figuring out whether the information is being discussed from a medical or social perspective.For example, she thinks morning edition When Aubrey said that Wegovy “is not a cosmetic weight loss drug. It is a drug for people whose health is at risk due to obesity, this story is a good example of that.”
- Put words like “fat” in quotation marks in your written copy to acknowledge that the word means different things to different people.
- Showing viewers that body image is much more than what people think they look like. “Research shows that you can't separate mental health from physical health — they're intrinsically linked, and one affects the other,” she said.
“You can de-stigmatize a size without saying you should or shouldn't be that size,” says Haelle. “Working to remove stigma doesn't mean condoning. … We can work as media to remove stigma from these things without passing judgment on them.”
We appreciate these suggestions. Across the news media, coverage of weight as a medical and cultural issue is becoming clearer and more accurate. NPR is clearly part of this shift. In two very different stories we've seen, as well as other coverage, NPR offers new insights, new perspectives, and solid facts. From a health and social perspective, journalism is likely to continue to realize that there are many complexities in reporting on weight-related topics. As conversational audio storytellers, NPR has the ability and expertise to bring audiences to that nuance. — Emily Busker
Public editors spend a lot of time checking out moments when NPR falls short. However, we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at what we consider to be high-profile journalism work. Here, we share a line or two of NPR's shine.
friends at work
Research by NPR Digital Story Exploration shows that connection to colleagues is a key indicator of how happy a person is at work. Dr. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, said in the article that while other types of relationships in life are essential to well-being, friendships at work are important because we spend a lot of time Work. Health reporter Rhitu Chatterjee examines the impact of workplace friendships and reports on practical ways to foster them in a world of work that has changed dramatically over the past few years. — Emily Busker
NPR Science Desk contributor Ari Daniel reported multiple stories about FunSalud, a small clinic and research station in rural western Guatemala where locals investigate diseases. As part of the NPR series “Hidden Viruses: How Pandemics Begin,” Daniel introduces us to the teams that go into communities to find emerging diseases with pandemic potential. “If there's anything COVID, Zika and H1N1 have taught us, it's that you can't put your head in the sand and hope the next pandemic doesn't come,” said Dan Olson, the center's director of research. These stories are insightful and in-depth explorations of the work one country is doing on the ground to help prevent the next pandemic. — Amaris Castillo
The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Editor Kayla Randall, reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske, and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations by Carlos Carmonamedina.We are still reading all your messages Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, let them come.
NPR Public Editor
Chair, Poynter Institute Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership