Heating versus Eating - The framing of food and fuel poverty in UK media
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University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1628
Background: In a time of economic turmoil, the UK is facing a stark cost-of-living crisis where people may be forced to choose between heating their homes and eating regular meals. Little research has explored this intersection of food and fuel poverty (FFP), though the “heat or eat” trade-off has been widely portrayed in the UK media. Hence, this media analysis seeks to assess how FFP are framed relationally in the UK news and how surrounding public health messaging has been portrayed. Methods: Using Nexis Lexis, we searched for UK news articles about overlapping FFP, published between January 2010 and April 2022. Relevant data were extracted and analysed relying on framing theory. Results: We identified 193 articles that met the inclusion criteria. Despite a spike in FFP news in 2013/2014, the issue largely gained momentum late 2021 into 2022, following the cost-of-living crisis and, later, Russian invasion of Ukraine. Journalists predominantly identified food poverty as a reliance on food banks, and fuel poverty as an inability to afford to heat and, to a lesser extent, power household (e.g., cooking) appliances. Many (68%) articles presented FFP as a trade-off (“heating versus eating”), while others framed FFP as “compounding,” or “not distinct.” Thirty per cent of articles framed the issue in relation to public health, with 10% drawing connections to mental health, 7% to death/mortality, and 18% to physical health. Children (n=78), older adults (n=48), and people with disabilities (n=28) were outlined as having a distinct relationship with FFP – either as particularly “hard hit,” “vulnerable to consequences,” or “unacceptably experiencing” FFP. Conclusions: The intersection of FFP has been a reoccurring and growing topic in mainstream UK news since 2010. Public health research needs to do more to explore the “heat or eat” phenomenon and contribute to public awareness of FFP health implications.