Mainstream media play a central role in shaping the ways diet and nutrition are discussed in the public sphere, yet few studies have explored its depictions of the meat-health nexus. Focusing on eight of the most popular news online sites consumed by lower-income groups in the UK—the demographic most likely to eat meat, according to a survey conducted for this study—we carried out content analysis of 128 articles. We found, first, a multiplicity of pro- and anti-meat narratives across all news outlets; second, that the dominant recommendation, found in 40% of our sample, was to eat less or no red meat; and third, that a balanced or neutral sentiment was present in over half of our sample, with a ratio of 3:2 (anti-versus pro-meat) in remaining articles. We found that the editorial leaning of a news outlet was not closely correlated with its overall sentiment towards meat consumption; all were neutral or slightly anti-meat, with the exception of LAD Bible, the only clearly pro-meat outlet. Qualitative analysis uncovered three key themes: the risk of red meat on colorectal cancer, uncertainty around plant-based options, and individual dietary choice. We use case studies guided by these themes to highlight some of the shortcomings of health communication and provide recommendations, with a focus on improved dialogue between journalists and researchers.

Mainstream media play a central role in shaping the ways diet and nutrition are discussed in the public sphere. In this study we analysed 128 articles from eight of the most popular news online sites consumed by lower-income groups in the UK—a demographic with poorer health outcomes and more likely to eat meat. We found, first, a multiplicity of pro- and anti-meat narratives across all news outlets; second, that the most common solution was to eat less or no red meat (found in 40% of articles); and third, that the most common sentiment of articles was neutral or balanced (50% of articles), with an anti-/pro-meat ratio of 3:2 in remaining articles. We found that the editorial leaning of a news outlet did not closely correlate with its overall sentiment towards meat consumption, with all news sites being either neutral or slightly anti-meat; the exception was LAD Bible, the only clearly pro-meat outlet. This analysis revealed three recurring themes: the risk of red meat on colorectal cancer, uncertainty around plant-based options, and individual dietary choice; we analyse these further these to highlight some of the shortcomings of, and provide recommendations for improving, health communication.

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