Why obesity? A critical and comparative analysis of what the problem is represented to be in obesity and tobacco policy in Australia

Date & time

12.30–1.30pm 13 November 2014


Bob Douglas Lecture Theatre, Building 62 NCEPH (entrance on Eggleston Road)


Helen Kinmonth, PhD Candidate, NCEPH-RSPH


 Vasoontara Yieng

Helen Kinmonth holds a Master of Population Studies (2008) (ANU) and a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) (1996) (ANU). She worked for nine years for the Department of Health and Ageing in the policy and research areas of Indigenous health, hospital funding, and Medicare- including policy development work on the first Medicare preventive health items. Prior to studying she worked for five months for the Aberdeen Health Board as a preventive health assessor on Shell oil platforms in the North Sea.


For decades, government strategic health policy in Australia has represented obesity and tobacco as key risk factors for non-communicable chronic diseases, and as national targets for preventive health action. Yet the prevalence of obesity continues to rise, while rates of adult daily smoking continue to fall, reflecting decades of similar trends. Calls to investigate the failure of obesity policy have included the call to better theorise obesity as a problem-forpolicy, and to use the ‘lessons’ from tobacco control.

A critical, comparative analysis of broad and historic policy contexts, along with specific instances of obesity policy (Measure Up) and tobacco policy (Plain Packaging of Cigarettes), finds fundamental differences in what the problem-for-policy is represented to be. These differences are argued to be major obstacles to the use of tobacco control as a template for more effective obesity policy. Silenced alternative representations are analysed and explored for radical re-constructions of the obesity problem.

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