Media hysteria in the UK is normally the province of the tabloid papers and The Guardian, but now The Telegraph has got in on the act. It has taken a report ranking obesity as a major crisis and, in a headline, suggested that the authors likened obesity to terrorism. Pro tip: they didn’t.
In her latest annual report, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said that the country’s obesity epidemic is escalating so dramatically that it should be included in national risk plans. She says it poses a major threat to the sustainability of the National Health Service, and to the country’s economic outlook.
Specifically, Dame Sally said: “Obesity has to be a national priority. Action is required across all of society to prevent obesity and its associated problems from shortening women’s lives and affecting their quality of life.”
Other major threats for which there are national risk plans thanks to their grave potential for wreaking havoc within the country include (for example), climate change, and terrorism.
Just as action is required to tackle the risks associated with terrorism and extremist ideologies (and, supposedly climate change), Dame Sally believes action is also required to tackle obesity. But to any rational person it will be abundantly obvious that the specific actions taken in each case will differ wildly.
Nonetheless, The Telegraph has managed to render her statement in its headline as “Obesity has become ‘a national threat’ to the UK like terrorism”, bringing to mind images of grossly overweight people exploding in busy shopping centres.
In doing so, it’s slavishly following a recent fashion within the mainstream media for confusing the really quite disparate concepts of ‘lists’ and ‘statements of similarity’.
The Telegraph’s headline suggests that Dame Sally conflated obesity with terrorism, but did she really? Or do they just both happen to be on a list of threats to the United Kingdom (Dame Sally doesn’t even make mention of terrorism, The Telegraph does).
The Telegraph didn’t report her comments as ‘Chief Medical officer: obesity is like climate change’ as that would have been obviously nonsensical. Yet they had absolutely zero problem with rendering it ‘Obesity like terrorism’.
Another case of trying to set an agenda through careful use of language, perhaps?