Diet, fitness and healthy living have become popular topics of media coverage and public health campaigns. Stories about the health hazards of fat draw on scientific knowledge, the expertise of scientists and medical doctors, and increasingly on new “field experts” such as nutrition consultants and personal health trainers.

This paper explores the relations between actors in health communication in a recent anti-fat campaign (“The Fat Rebellion”) that was run in Finland’s biggest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. We argue that the campaign addressed its readers via four categories of agency (field experts, scientists, examples and students), and via three discourses (national-economic, risk and aesthetic discourse). The field experts played a key role in the campaign as mediators of scientific knowledge and expertise.

Nutrition therapists, sports instructors, public health nurses, physiotherapists, personal fitness trainers and other field experts were the most cited actors in the campaign. They appeared as authorized users of science-based information and technology, and they worked in close relation with ordinary people fighting against fat. They gave advice to and encouraged “students” to keep track of their weight and in their interviews offered quite detailed prescriptions of what sort of lifestyles people should lead in order to achieve their ideal weight.

In order to receive tailored advice on how to enhance their well-being, the students gave the field experts all relevant information about their body and confessed to any undesirable practices (“yesterday I sneaked a piece of chocolate”). Rather than being allowed an independent voice, they were portrayed in the role of passive objects; they were not making things happen, but things were happening to them.

We argue that the strong role of field experts in “Fat Rebellion” reflect a cultural change, a process towards biological citizenship (e.g. Rose & Novas 2005) in which the life sciences, lifestyle coaches and various technical instruments have assumed an increasingly prominent role in everyday life.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Fighting fat
The role of “field experts” in mediating science in health communication

Esa Väliverronen   Dept of Social Research, University of Helsinki

Vienna Setälä   Dept of Social Research, University of Helsinki

Diet, fitness and healthy living have become popular topics of media coverage and public health campaigns. Stories about the health hazards of fat draw on scientific knowledge, the expertise of scientists and medical doctors, and increasingly on new “field experts” such as nutrition consultants and personal health trainers.

This paper explores the relations between actors in health communication in a recent anti-fat campaign (“The Fat Rebellion”) that was run in Finland’s biggest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. We argue that the campaign addressed its readers via four categories of agency (field experts, scientists, examples and students), and via three discourses (national-economic, risk and aesthetic discourse). The field experts played a key role in the campaign as mediators of scientific knowledge and expertise.

Nutrition therapists, sports instructors, public health nurses, physiotherapists, personal fitness trainers and other field experts were the most cited actors in the campaign. They appeared as authorized users of science-based information and technology, and they worked in close relation with ordinary people fighting against fat. They gave advice to and encouraged “students” to keep track of their weight and in their interviews offered quite detailed prescriptions of what sort of lifestyles people should lead in order to achieve their ideal weight.

In order to receive tailored advice on how to enhance their well-being, the students gave the field experts all relevant information about their body and confessed to any undesirable practices (“yesterday I sneaked a piece of chocolate”). Rather than being allowed an independent voice, they were portrayed in the role of passive objects; they were not making things happen, but things were happening to them.

We argue that the strong role of field experts in “Fat Rebellion” reflect a cultural change, a process towards biological citizenship (e.g. Rose & Novas 2005) in which the life sciences, lifestyle coaches and various technical instruments have assumed an increasingly prominent role in everyday life.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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