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Moerschel, Katharina S.; Philipsborn, Peter von; Hawkins, Benjamin; McGill, Elizabeth (2021): Concepts of responsibility in the German media debate on sugar taxation: a qualitative framing analysis. In: European Journal of Public Health
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BACKGROUND Framing plays an important role in health-policy processes. Responsibility for health is a salient and contested concept in the framing around food policies, such as sugar taxes. To deepen the understanding of the sugar tax process in Germany and contribute to a better understanding of how responsibility frames are used in debates on health policies, this study investigated responsibility concepts underlying the German media debate on sugar taxation. METHODS We analyzed 114 national German newspaper articles, published between January 2018 and March 2019, following an inductive thematic analysis approach with an additional deductive focus on responsibility. We identified important contested concepts around sugar taxation, analyzed their combination into narrative frames, and scrutinized those narrative frames for underlying responsibility concepts. RESULTS First, we identified important contested concepts regarding problems, actors and solutions (i.e. sugar tax and its potential alternatives). Those laid the basis for 13 narrative frames, of which the 'unscrupulous industry', 'government failure', 'vulnerable youth' and the 'oversimplification', 'responsible industry' and 'nanny state' frames were most salient. Within the narrative frames, we found a dominance of societal responsibility framing with a conflict between binding, legislative measures and voluntary solutions in cooperation with the food and beverages industry. CONCLUSIONS Questions around societal responsibility for health and corporate social responsibility framing become more salient in sugar tax debates. Future research should, therefore, investigate how public health advocates can successfully engage with corporate social responsibility narratives, and how legislative measures can be framed in ways that engender trust in governmental actions.