On October 27th, 2016, Dialogue4Health, presented a webinar discussion titled, “Examining the Public Debate on School Food Nutrition Guidelines: Findings and Lessons Learned from an Analysis of News Coverage and Legislative Debates.”  This discussion was presented by media researcher Laura Nixon and the Berkley Media Studies Group.

How do we analyze the types of media coverage given to different school nutrition subjects?  It turns out that factors generated by media outlets and policy holders are used to determine school nutrition topics of interest. To engage in an effective dialogue on this topic, one must examine how media outlets and news stations determine which stories are news-worthy. For starters, a large majority of the coverage on school nutrition comes from news outlets. Media researcher, Laura Nixson states that news makes up 80% of the coverage surrounding school nutrition. At this level, stories are generated by reporters based on the perspective, “if it bleeds, it leads”.  While this mantra normally implies the association of violence to determine which stories lead news broadcasts, in the realm of school nutrition, the most controversial stories will get air time.  Interestingly enough, opinion coverage proved not to be a major factor in the study that was discussed on this webinar. Berkley Media found that the use of editorial pieces by news mediums were not as prominent as regular news stories.

The researchers looking at this issue, discovered that there is no direct correlation between state population size and major media outlet coverage and there was not an increase in coverage because of the number of inhabitants in the state.  Surprisingly, there is a higher amount of media coverage found throughout the Midwest United States. In addition, there was a significant amount of coverage in the state of California. Could the political make up of California have a direct connection to California’s significant media coverage?

Nixson explores federal school nutrition guidelines and the direct relationship between positive or negative news coverage.  Moreover, the scope of the different topics presented in articles cover a vast range. There was not one particular topic that was polarizing enough to skew the news coverage.  The topic of healthier food policy options had the most arguments, while the topic of keeping nutrition guidelines obtained roughly 9% coverage. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, key arguments opposing school nutrition received more coverage.

Berkley Media Studies and Nixson concluded that most articles focused on state implementation of meals. The increase of articles from 2013 to 2014 was the result of a spike in arguments against the guidelines of school nutrition. It is interesting to consider the politics of school nutrition.


  1. Examining the Public Debate on School Food Nutrition Guidelines: Findings and Lessons Learned from an Analysis of News Coverage and Legislative Debates, October 27, 2016. http://www.dialogue4health.org/web-forums/detail/examining-the-public-debate-on-school-food-nutrition