Global opinions on obesity vary by country, study says

NEW YORK: Obesity is an issue that has raised global interest, but the key players and attitudes vary from country to country, according to a survey analyzing obesity coverage over the past five years.

NEW YORK: Obesity is an issue that has raised global interest, but the key players and attitudes vary from country to country, according to a survey analyzing obesity coverage over the past five years.

"If you look at obesity as an issue ... it involves dangers, it involves disease, and, increasingly, it involves personalities," said Sandra Macleod, CEO of Echo Research, which conducted the analysis. "That's a significant amount of mileage."

Obesity coverage has risen 294% since 1999, and an article on obesity appears somewhere in the world every other day, Macleod said.

The study also tracked global views on how best to stem the problem. More than 50% of US articles mentioned education, while 25% mentioned litigation.

European reporters, in contrast, focused on legislation in the majority of articles.

"It's a global issue, but it plays out differently in different markets," Macleod added. "When you're mounting a communications [plan], you have to consider the personalities involved."

News reports also tended to diverge on which were the biggest industry culprits.

While 44% of US articles fingered sugar as a leading cause of obesity, European reports were more concerned with fat, said Marianne Eisenmann, MD of Echo Research in North America.

McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Kraft Foods were most closely associated with obesity, and were mentioned in 39%, 20%, and 11% of articles, respectively.

This finding held true almost universally, except in the United Kingdom, where locally based Cadbury Schweppes took second place.

"McDonald's was ubiquitous, and this was even before the movie [Super Size Me] came out," Macleod said.

But she added that not all coverage was negative; the articles also reflected the initiatives firms were taking to address obesity.

The PR strategy, therefore, must be "proactive" rather than "defensive," Macleod noted, because the coverage tends to focus on corporate, rather than individual, responsibility.

Eisenmann added that all nations were most concerned about children, followed by women.

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