Alarming ambiguities : an analysis of Norwegian public documents concerning child obesity
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In the public domain, overweight and obesity are usually presented as an alarming health problem in need of fixing. There has been an increase in average body weight in many counties across the world in the last 30 years. The reasons for this are numerous, and rest both in modern society, biology and personal lifestyles. Responsibility for altering the situation is also divided. The societal responsibility frame identifies it as society’s job, while the personal responsibility frame defines it as individual’s obligation. At the same time concerns around problem formulation, reasoning and responsibility to a broader extent are diverse and less obvious. Similarly, there are many perspectives and assumptions concerning children. This study has looked at how overweight and obesity are understood and handled by the Norwegian Government and health authorities, and what ideas about children they rely on. Theoretically, this study has been informed by social studies of children and childhood, and sociology of health and illness. The method of document analysis has been used, and ten public documents giving premises for the Norwegian health care service were analyzed using thematic analysis. The child perspectives and understanding a phenomenon have been main perspectives in approaching the documents. Findings from the study show that the documents rely on a certain hegemonic ideology concerning excess body weight, constructing it as a great problem. Main reasons are said to be a modern health debilitating society, and individual lifestyle behavior in terms of physical activity and diet. The responsibility is placed mainly on society, and societal solution proposed to handle the problem are changing personal behavior, regulating societal structures and prevention efforts. Children are positioned both as competent and dependent, within a landscape of various views focusing mainly on children’s significance as future human beings. However, an important finding was the alarming ambiguities concerning both in the formulation of the “obesity problem”, the logic behind it and the construction and positioning of the child. Reliance lies on the ideology of overweight as inherently health hazardous, which together with simple explanatory frames may allow for moralizing behaviors in society towards overweight and obese individuals. Society’s role in maintaining health in the population can cause pedagogies about the self being imposed on and affecting people. The ambiguous construction of children in society, and of overweight and obesity may lead to difficulties in implementing appropriate measures in handling the situation. There is a need for more research from social sciences, focusing on what the problem is presented to be.