Governing the (un)healthy child-consumer in the age of the childhood obesity crisis
(2018) Sport, Education and Society, 23 (4), pp. 297-310.
In recent years, multinational food and drink corporations and their marketing practices have been blamed for the global childhood obesity ‘crisis’. Unsurprisingly, these corporations have been quick to refute these claims and now position themselves as ‘part of the solution’ to childhood obesity. In this paper, I examine how and why corporations fund, devise and/or implement ‘healthy lifestyles education’ programmes in schools. By using a critical ethnographic research approach alongside Foucault’s notion of governmentality, I interrogate what those with the ‘will to govern’ (such as corporations) wanted to happen (e.g. fight obesity, change marketing practices and increase consumption), but also what actually happened when these corporatised education programmes met their intended targets in three New Zealand primary schools. I critically examine these programmes by focusing on the ways in which three technologies of consumption–product placement, transforming children into marketers and sponsorship–attempt to govern children to be lifelong consumers of the corporate brand image and their allegedly ‘healthy’ corporate products. Although students were not necessarily naïve and easily coerced into becoming mindless consumers of corporate products, students and their teachers readily accepted that sponsorship, product placement and marketing in schools were normal, natural, necessary and mostly harmless. Healthy lifestyles education programmes represent a new ‘brand’ of health, health education and corporation. The child-citizen is governed to become the child-consumer. Corporations’ anxieties about being blamed for childhood obesity are fused with technologies of ‘healthy consumption’: the consumption of corporate products, corporate philanthropy, the corporate brand and corporate ‘education’. © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
childhood obesity; consumers; critical ethnography; food and drink industry; Foucault; governmentality; Health and physical education; marketing; sponsorship; technologies of consumption