Nutrition, expertise and media - MEX

Objectives: The project researchers will collect data and analyze actors in the Finnish ”alternative health scene” that are representative of the characteristics of current food-related media debates. The analysis will scrutinize the controversies as not only about nutrition but about issues such as identity, stigmatization, free choice, expertise, taste or pleasure. The aim is to analyze more broadly experts, journalists, alternative health advocates, citizens, discourses and commercial interests, as well as their assemblages, around the concepts of “healthy living” or “healthy lifestyle.”

Background: Subjects related to food and nutrition such as food additives, dietary supplements, carbohydrates, fats and obesity have been recurring subjects of debate, in the media and in academic and policy forums. Various professional groups, from scientific experts to lifestyle coaches, have gained increasing visibility in health- and food-related debates. An interesting group are celebrities and bloggers, promoting their branded and commercialized lifestyles and personal experiences.

Besides the juxtaposition of the medical establishment and lifestyle gurus, another division exists within the academia. One example is found in debates on obesity: On the one hand, the public-health and health-promotion community aims at decreasing obesity on a population level and bases its suggestions on large-scale population data. On the other hand, researchers in critical fat studies and feminist studies promote body emancipatory politics and body positivity, typically basing their conclusions on qualitative data and giving voice to obese individuals themselves.

Finally, the food controversies are colored by tensions between different and often competing framings of food, such as nutrition and food culture, health and pleasure, discipline and release. These examples suggest that new disruptions, communities and alliances are formed and that health-related media controversies are not only about health but about aesthetics, overall lifestyle, taste and identity.

The study will take place in 2019 – 2022.

Data Include:
-Survey data and qualitative data collected in co-operation with the University of Helsinki (Mari Nova, Johanna Mäkelä) and Helsingin Sanomat (Anna-Stint Nykänen) newspaper – the questionnaire is here (in Finnish) Ruokakysely 2020 HS
-Data collected at the Mohawk Analytics platform: e.g. discussions about childhood obesity at discussion board; and discussion about the role of Vitamine D in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19  (Twitter)

Read more on the MEX consortium here.


Piia Jallinoja

  • Professor
  • terveyssosiologia
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Tampere University
  • +358504377047