Doctoral Students

Molly Bond PhD due for completion by Dec 2013

Thesis topic: The Phenomenology of the Obesity Epidemic: Can we find a common narrative with which to move forward?

In the last 50 years there has been a divergence from healthy lifestyle diet and exercise recommendations, concurrent with the worsening obesity epidemic. Economic, social and policy trends have facilitated the current lifestyle of most individuals through growing urbanisation, increases in the energy density of the food supply and reductions in both incidental and occupational energy expenditure. Obesity, and particularly the development of obesity as an epidemic, is clearly a very complex issue, involving many different players in disparate fields.

The obesity epidemic presents a major public health challenge, which requires a multi-faceted and coordinated approach to address the behavioural, socio-cultural and environmental factors that promote and perpetuate obesity. While such an approach is commendable in theory, it is unclear is how all the fields required can unite to undertake this required multi-faceted and coordinated approach. Too often this concept is put to the side, with researchers promoting only their particular area. If each field continues to promote their agenda as the most important one and their interventions as the only ones worth employing, then an opportunity to make real, meaningful, practical impact on the obesity epidemic is being missed.

The question then arises of how is it that all these different players who are involved in what is ostensibly the same battle end up with such different approaches? Perhaps a great part of the answer lies in the varied constructions of obesity that exist within different fields. The parties involved in the obesity epidemic do not construct the problem of obesity in the same way and this hinders meaningful progress in addressing the obesity epidemic. A systematic examination of these different constructions of obesity is required.

Michel Foucault’s theory of problematization describes the following: the fact that an individual’s existence is problematized in a specific way is determined by the social power relations in which they are embedded. If we accept Foucault’s premise we could apply his theory of problematization to the obesity epidemic as follows, the fact that a field problematizes obesity in a specific way is determined by the social power relations in which the field is embedded. Therefore we must examine the social power relations in which each field is embedded if we are to fully understand the way in which the field constructs obesity.

My project aims to generate the optimal multi-faceted approach to combat obesity, based upon what each area can bring to addressing the challenge. My methodology will take the form of an iterative two-step process – a theoretical research component, consisting of a guided literature review, followed by a complementary empirical research component, consisting of content analysis. Each of the narratives to be investigated will function as a case study, with methodology repeated for each narrative.