Governing obesity policies from England, France, Germany and Scotland

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Defining a phenomenon as a political problem could be considered a crucial part of any political process. Body weight, when categorised as obesity, has been defined as a political problem since the beginning of the 21st century and has entered the political agenda in many countries. In this article, I present a study of four plans from four Western European countries: England, France, Germany and Scotland, identifying how obesity is defined as a political issue. The questions addressed are: How is the development in the obesity prevalence explained and who is considered responsible for the development? What are the suggested remedies and who is considered responsible for acting? All plans state that obesity is a po- litical issue because it causes health problems; in fact, weight is almost equated to health. The English and Scottish plans present a bio-political argument, characterising obesity as a serious threat to the countries' economies. So does the German plan, but not with the same emphasis. The plans portray people with obesity as being economically harmful to their fellow citizens. The French plan expresses another concern by focussing on the discrimination and stigmatization of obese people. All plans define the physical and food environment as a crucial factor in the obesity development, but only the Scottish Government is prepared to use statutory means towards industry and other actors to achieve change. The policies convey an unresolved dilemma: To govern or not to govern? The Governments want individuals to choose for themselves, yet they try to govern the populations to choose as the Governments find appropriate. The plans have a legitimising function, showing that the Governments take the issue seriously. Accordingly, in this case, the actual problematisations seem to be less crucial.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Pages (from-to)317-323
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

ID: 150398378