A new ‘brand’ of food education: shaping the healthy child-consumer

Year: 2016

Author: Powell, Darren, Welch, Rosie, Wright, Jan, Leahy, Deana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years, multi-national 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’ and anti-obesity 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, 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 four technologies of consumption - product placement, transforming children into marketers, sponsorship and free food – attempted to govern children to be lifelong consumers of the corporate brand image and their allegedly ‘healthy’ corporate products. I also discuss how children and adults in schools understood – and sometimes resisted - these endeavours to shape children into healthy, non-obese citizens and consumers. 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, free food and marketing in schools was normal, natural, necessary, and mostly harmless. In this presentation I provide an analysis of what this means for teaching and learning, as a new ‘brand’ of health education (Vander Schee, 2008) and a re-invented ‘healthy’ corporation is brought into schools to teach children about health, bodies and consumption.