I was recently asked by a university student – Daisy Holden – to answer a few questions on how Health is portrayed in Women’s Magazines. I thought Daisy asked some interesting questions and so wanted to post my answers to her questions below.
- Why do women’s magazines contain articles about how to maintain healthy lifestyles?
I think many, many women are interested in improving their health as well as the ideal of “being the best you” that magazines often encourage.
At the same time I think that women are aware of the importance of good health, for themselves and for their families too. However, many people are desperate for a ‘quick fix’ to health, which gives even more scope for magazines to sell the idea of a ‘magic bullet’ to fix health problems from acne to their risks of developing cancer.
- Is important that women’s magazines contain these types of articles about nutritional advice?
It’s great that magazines cover health. It’s an important area and a lot of messages about health and nutrition can be communicated via the medium of magazines. However, what needs to slightly change is the type of health messages that are often covered by the media in general. Additionally magazines coverage of some of the latest fads and ‘diet gurus’ actually complicates the public’s perception of nutrition and health further. This is what we need to change. In my opinion magazines should use reputable, evidence-based practitioners for advice and stick with evidence-based, honest information about diet and health. Not the latest fad or un-scientific statements.
- Do all women’s magazines communicate nutritional health information in the same way?
No, some magazines are very careful with not promoting ‘fad diets’ or negative body image messages with their readers. This is a fantastic stance for magazines to take.
Others go more for the latest headlines, quick fixes and these can have detrimental effects on young (and older) women’s health.
- Or does this differ between magazines? If so why do you think that is?
I think this is to do with the stance that the magazine wants to take and what the ethics are of those high up, who are managing the content and the magazine’s ethos. It’s similar to other organisations in that, if you’ve got someone running the content who really cares about health and nutrition and the wellbeing of the readers, then you’re more likely to approach articles from a healthier perspective.
- How does you choose what healthy living articles to write about?
On my own blog I try and write about current topics. But more often than not an idea just comes to me and I write about that. It may be a question from a friend, media or client.
In the media I rarely choose. Sometimes I work with an editor and make suggestions, but more often than not, I’m asked to write about something specific and current.
- How do you communicate or frame health advice to the general public?
You have to base your information on evidence-based advice only. Avoid making claims, suggestions that there just isn’t any evidence or research for. Try and make health messages simple and honest but at the same time interesting – which isn’t always easy. My approach is always to give advice in the most simple way possible, in a language that I know readers, just like myself, will understand. I also always try and offer solutions rather than just posing problems.
- Are there any problems associated with the way that health advice is communicated to the general public, in all women’s magazines? Or is it a successful channel?
It can be (and often is) a successful channel. However, often misleading advice or attractive headlines get in the way of the facts, and can then spread misleading and very confusing information to the public who, fairly naturally, take what they read at face value.
- Are there any particular health topics such as types of healthy foods, dieting or detoxing, that you avoid writing about?
I like writing about these topics, but I write about them from the angle that they don’t work and try and always emphasise the fact that there is no quick fix to good health. Additionally, I try and avoid anything that isn’t evidence based. For example if there is a new diet that has no evidence behind it, I will steer clear of writing about these, unless it is to simply say that there isn’t enough research and to offer a more realistic, evidence-based approach to losing weight.
- Do you think there are problems with journalists who have no background in medicine or health, communicating healthy living to the public?
I think it’s actually important that messages about health and lifestyles are communicated with the public, and journalists are the best way to do this. BUT I do wish that more journalists were a little more savvy with where they get their advice from (seeking out registered professionals such as a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitians to provide backgrounds and quotes for example) and I also wish they would ask for evidence more often when quoting or stating claims about foods and diets.
On top of this, I do think that journalists who are writing for women’s magazines have some responsibility towards the health of their readers and so should think twice before writing or promoting unrealistic, unhealthy and unattainable goals – bikini body diets, superfoods etc etc.
- Do you think there is a link between health and lifestyle articles, and women’s appearances in all women’s magazines?
I’m not really sure what this question is asking, or if I’m best placed to answer?
- Do some healthy articles position women as a need to improve themselves?
I think it’s slightly human nature to want to ‘be the best you’ and yes, I think that women’s magazines often exaggerate this need too. If magazines portrayed more realistic images, lifestyles, goals it could help with a lot of self-esteem issues in the UK. Additionally, if articles were written with science in mind, they may help women achieve a more realistic ‘best you’.
- Are health articles written differently for women than for men?
I’m sure they are. However, both often promote exciting one-liner, on-evidence based headlines and un-realistic goals and diets to their readers.