Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
JS_RN16_RN22_RN30_10: Adolescents and Obesity in Context: Moving Beyond Individual Choice
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Evelyne Baillergeau, University of Amsterdam
Session Chair: Christian Bröer, University of Amsterdam
Location: GM.328
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

Session Abstract

As obesity and overweight among children and young people is a developing issue in all parts of Europe, how do we, European sociologists, contribute to understand the social and political influences on eating and body development among adolescents?

To date, obesity prevention efforts have often focused on trying to influence individual choices as if they were conscious and rational. However, these choices are strongly influenced by complex sets of contextual elements, including unhealthy and unsupportive physical, social, cultural, economic, and political environments. As obesity and overweight among children and young people is a developing issue in all parts of Europe, how do we, European sociologists, contribute to understand the social and political influences on eating and body development among adolescents? We are both interested in empirically informed papers and conceptual papers.

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Exploring Nutrition in Context: What Do 11 Year-old Girls Eat and Think of Food?

Eluska Fernandez, Deirdre Horgan, Karl Kitching

University College Cork, Ireland

In Ireland, healthy eating policies for children and young people are often being framed in the context of increasing concerns about childhood obesity, an issue which according to the Irish government requires a multi-faceted approach that involves ‘the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes that influence behavior on food selection and consumption’ (HSE, 2018). These concerns reflect the hegemony of ‘obesity discourse’, which emphasise individual attributes in the pursuit of health, as well as top-down approaches that involve ‘giving students information’.

Our paper will discuss findings from a study undertaken in an all-girls primary school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood of a city in Ireland. It will reveal findings from a number of creative and participatory research exercises undertaken with 5th class students, which explore what students already know and have learned and experienced about nutrition both in their own lives, at schools, in their community and wider context. These exercises include focus groups where students ‘speak back’ to health promotion questionnaires and reflect on what different questions they would ask of researchers about their eating and spending habits; and a mapping of food outlets exercise in their own community, which highlights material and structural factors (e.g. availability of good quality food in low income areas). Drawing on critical pedagogical approaches that problematize individualizing practices and recognize how discourses on nutrition are also mediated by gender, inequality and power, our study engages students in discussions about wider food policy issues that go beyond the focus on individual behaviour.

„What’s a normal weight?“ - Body Size Norms in Origin- and Receiving Country and Immigrant Adolescents’ Weight-Status Self-Assessment

Matthias Robert Kern1, Andreas Heinz1, Gonneke Stevens2, Sophie D. Walsh3, Helmut Willems1

1University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg; 2Utrecht University, Netherlands; 3Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Many young people struggle with correctly assessing their weight-status, often leaving over- or underweight to go unnoticed and preventing adequate intervention.

Weight-status perception differs cross-nationally and cross-ethnically revealing a considerable influence of social context. In particular, cultural norms regarding body-size seem to serve as benchmarks for weight-status assessment.

For immigrant adolescents this brings up the problem of multiple reference frames. As they are often simultaneously embedded within heritage- and receiving culture normative regimes, they might assess their weight-status against the backdrop of either heritage- or receiving culture body-size norms or both.

In our study we investigate to which extent weight-status assessment among immigrant adolescents is affected by origin- and receiving country body-size norms, using data from the 2014 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study. The cross-national design of the study enabled us to aggregate body-size norms for 41 countries in Europe, Asia and America and subsequently identify a large and ethnically diverse sample of 8132 immigrant adolescents in 23 receiving countries from 41 origin countries.

Descriptive analyses reveal considerable differences in body-size norms between the different countries. Cross-classified multilevel regression analyses demonstrate a significant effect of heritage- and receiving culture body-size norms on weight-status assessment, with a stronger impact of receiving culture norms. Stratified analyses reveal a stronger influence of heritage culture body-size norms among first- than among second generation immigrants, and a stronger influence of receiving culture body-size norms among second- than among first generation immigrants.

The results corroborate our expectations regarding the persistency of cultural norms and help contextualize inter-ethnic differences in weight-status assessment.

Confronting Obesity: Co-creating policy with adolescents

Christian Bröer, Sherria Ayuandini, Gerlieke Veltkamp, Baillergeau Evelyne

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

How to arrive at macro level or system based approach for overweight prevention in the European Union?

In this presentation we will describe one particular approach and present some first findings from the so called CoCreate project. The Horizon 2020 funded project "Confronting Obesity: Co-creating policy with adolescents" aims to bring together scientific knowledge and youth experiential knowledge. CoCreate strives to empower youth to envision and test policy changes at the macro or system level.

CoCreate is premised on participatory democracy and assumes that political engagment and innovation arise from learning and intervention processes. More particularly, the involvement of youth is based on Participatory Action Research (PAR). While running PAR,we also research if and how this approach leads to novel policy ideas, readiness for action, learning and inclusive policy making.

CoCreate is meant to included diverse groups of youth. This presentation will address the problems involved in reaching out to and recruiting disadvantaged youth across different national and local context. We will present first data from the recruitment phase of CoCreate.

Diversity and inequality have different shapes across these contexts. We want to discuss the question what this means for a system based prevention approach. How can we reconcile local diversities with generic and systemic interventions?

CoCreate runs in 5 European countries: Norway, UK, The Netherlands, Portugal and Poland. Parts of CoCreate extend to South Africa and to the US/Texas. It started May 2018 to finish in 2023. The involvement of youth starts April 2018. Researchers form the social sciences, epidemiology, psychology and medicine are contributing and 250 citizens aged 16-18 are to be engaged with.

Fatness & Blackness: Considering the cultural dynamics of curves

Katherine Appleford

Kingston University London, United Kingdom

The purpose of this paper is to consider the importance of cultural understandings of fatness and beauty when engaging in medical debates such as those concerned with adolescent obesity prevention. Drawing on empirical research conducted in 2015 which focused on racial distinctions in women’s motivations for dieting, the paper argues that for some women ‘fullness’ is important in terms of desirability. Indeed, for many young black women the beauty ideal may well centre around notions of ‘slim-thick’, which place significant emphasis on having curves. Consequently, the paper suggests that health and medical programmes which set out to tackle obesity need to acknowledge the cultural differences in understandings of beauty, and ought to consider the cultural and social dynamics of food and fatness too, as both can be read as symbols of love, care and nurture.

Exploring A 'Practice Change' Approach To School Physical Activity Intervention

Fiona Spotswood1, Gareth Wiltshire2

1University of Bristol, United Kingdom; 2University of Bath, United Kingdom

Child and adolescent obesity continues to be a major public health concern. Critical scholarship problematizes the dominant behavioural-individualist approach to some eating and physical activity (PA) interventions and the potential of an alternative approach drawing on theories of practice has been widely noted. Focusing on practices reimagines intervention as shaping sets of collective conventions through managed changes to practice interrelationships and anatomies. However, there is little evidence of the viability of this approach. This study considers whether, and how, a practice-change approach to school physical activity participation is operationalizable.

Mixed ethnographic research in primary school one considered (1) which practices are available to pupils during a school day that are physically active (2) how the configuration of materials, competences and meanings serves to enable or constrain PA, and (3) how practices are enabled or constrained by their interrelationships. Through this interrogation of practices, we set the scene for the pilot project in school two; a co-designed programme of practice change. Learning from the pilot includes that:

o The interconnectivity of practices inside and outside the school, performed by multiple practitioners, implicates pupils’ PA participation. The anatomy of a wide range of practices shapes the PA ‘culture’ of the school. Prioritisation is required.

o Operationalizing a practice-based plan requires a multitude of well-established management techniques such as co-creation, coalition-forming and social marketing.

o Evaluation of practice change requires theoretical and practical sensitivity; e.g. a long term and measures of collective social value in addition to quantifiable increases in PA participation.