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Dr Suzanne Harkins Food, Obesity and Families: Practices in Irish Households with Young Children.

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Presentation on theme: "Dr Suzanne Harkins Food, Obesity and Families: Practices in Irish Households with Young Children."— Presentation transcript:


2 Dr Suzanne Harkins Food, Obesity and Families: Practices in Irish Households with Young Children

3 FOOD, OBESITY AND FAMILIES: PRACTICES IN IRISH HOUSEHOLDS WITH YOUNG CHILDREN Context of research: - Mid 2000s Irish Society - National Taskforce on Obesity, formation and report (2005) War on Obesity: Government Launches Action Plan to Tackle €370m-a-Year Health Crisis By Claire O’Sullivan Irish Examiner 16 th May 2005, Front Page Obesity Task Force Warns of ‘Epidemic’: Report Urges Drastic Action as an Estimated 300,000 Irish Children Found to be Overweight or Obese By Eithne Donnellan Irish Times 17 th May 2005, Page 6 How to Feed Your Kids: Next Sunday STYLE Begins an Exclusive Two-Week Series Explaining the Basics with Food Guru Annabel Karmel Sunday Times 27 th May 2005, Page 10

4 RELATIONSHIP TO LITERATURE Social problems approach to nutrition and body weight (Sobal and Maurer, 1995; 1999) Social problems analysis: What level? - Claimsmakers - ‘Social problems work’: Everyday experiences used to characterise a social problem (Miller and Holstein, 1989; Holstein and Miller, 2003) Research focus: - Rational individualism  emphasis on context - Multiple perspectives, including children - Backett (1992): ‘everyday fabric of family interaction and prioritising’ Which literature? - Biomedical model defines obesity (kg/m 2 )  Qualitative sociological literatures on the social construction of food, healthy eating and body weight practices in everyday life

5 THESIS AIMS 1.To explore family food practices, and potential differences in these between households, in a sample of middle-class Irish families with young children 2.To investigate lay understandings of body weight and obesity within family food practices and consider if and how they are related to medicalised understandings of body weight and obesity 3.To examine lay understandings of ‘healthy eating’, body weight and obesity in family food practices and investigate if and how they may be related  Emphasis on ‘practices’ (Reckwitz, 2002)

6 METHODOLOGY Theoretical underpinning: - Social constructionism  contextual constructionism (Best, 1989; 1995; 2003) General approach: Family focused - 16 middle class families in a suburb of Dublin - Perspectives of multiple family members: mothers, fathers, children - Recruitment through local schools (children aged 6-8) Research methods: - Qualitatively-driven mixed methods approach - Semi-structured interviews with multiple family members, teachers - Structured food diaries - Questionnaires for sampling purposes (self-reported BMI, social class) Analysis: - Grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006) - Qualitative holistic profiling (Teddlie and Tashakkori, 2009)

7 GENERAL FINDINGS 1.Social organisation of family food practices Structure of household food practices Family food typology 2.The construction of ‘healthy eating’ in everyday family and school contexts Healthy goodness/unhealthy badness Food in schools: struggle between schools, parents and children 3.Lay understandings of obesity and relationships between obesity and food practices in household contexts Models of obesity (Sobal, 1995) Body weight practices in households

8 FINDING FOCUS 1: Family Food Typology Tripartite family food typology: 1. ‘Proper Mothers’: Duty 2. ‘Modern Traditionals’: Chore 3. ‘Food Enthusiaists’: Hobby Contributions: - Variation within middle-class family food practices, influenced by the role and meaning of food in family life - Expands on how domestic labour arrangements are influenced by food knowledge and personal interest (DeVault, 1991)

9 FINDING FOCUS 2: Modelling Obesity Modelling obesity (Sobal, 1995): Medical, moral and political models Medical Model:  Dominant, but disparities between biomedical and lay definitions of obesity - BMI vs visual evaluation techniques - Alternative methods: visual, clothing sizes, activity based (walking, bending down) - discrepancies between ‘ideal’ and ‘healthy’ weights Moral Model: - Complex and often conflicting moralities attached to body weight - Obesity considered ‘bad’, but so were judgements about body weight - Research difficulties: some children reluctant to discuss body weight for fear of getting in trouble Political model: - Largely absent Contribution: - Highlights difficulty of investigating ‘obesity’ using interviews - Alternative models required to theorise lay understandings of obesity

10 FINDING FOCUS 3: Body Weight in Everyday Life Interpreting body weight as a social problem: - Gendered bodies - Body weight vs body weight consciousness - Social class: obesity reported as a characteristic of both poverty/lack of education and affluence Body weight practices in families: - Body weight constructed as a personal and highly risky issue - Body weight talk with children should be positive reinforcement only - Parents fearful of causing eating disorders in children, primary concern about emotional wellbeing (Stearns, 1999) Contribution: - Highlights importance of understanding body weight as embedded in everyday life where body weight is just one priority amongst many - Highlights need for resources to aid parents of young children to address body weight issues (weight concerns, general body weight anxiety) which are culturally specific

11 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Research Scholarship Programme Contact: Dr Suzanne Harkins IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellow

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