The health pedagogy of an anti-obesity, anti-obesity campaign

Year: 2019

Author: Lee, Jessica, Williams, Benjamin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Queensland Government’s Healthier. Happier. initiative was designed to be a different kind of anti-obesity campaign. While pedagogies of shock and disgust had been typical of previous campaigns, Healthier. Happier. would adopt a set of sensitive, supportive strategies to weight reduction and obesity prevention. In this presentation, we explore how the concept of obesity simultaneously constituted and threatened the Healthier. Happier. campaign. We do so by analysing campaign materials (campaign website, mobile app, television commercials and online advertisements), stakeholder communications, and interviews with six key campaign workers using Law’s (2002) notion of heterogeneity/otherness. According to Law, heterogeneity/otherness refers to “the enemy excluded, the foe that is necessary, necessarily included, necessarily a part of the center, necessarily Other”. This concept allowed us to trace how obesity oscillated between absence and presence within Healthier. Happier. It also helped us identify the consequences of this oscillation for the campaign staff and the campaign itself. Specifically, it helps us show how Healthier. Happier. is an anti-obesity campaign insofar as it is intended as a public health intervention constituted by obesity and weight reduction as its rationale. Obesity posed a further threat in that it was seen as a negative and unpleasant topic among the population. To overcome this double-threat of obesity, Healthier. Happier. became an anti-obesity, anti-obesity campaign, where campaign staff sought to avoid the mention of overweight or obesity in campaign messages. To achieve this, the Health and Fitness Age Calculator was devised to be a fun and supportive behaviour change prompt, however campaign staff revealed that the algorithm was weighted largely towards BMI so that users who have overweight or obese BMIs will always receive a Health and Fitness Age higher than their chronological age. In this way, obesity in its absence is incorporated into the semiotics of presence. Within its current assemblage, obesity is indeed a necessary element within Healthier. Happier. If it were not there, the campaign would be different, the need for a campaign would look different, or perhaps disappear altogether. Our investigation and explanation using Law’s concept of heterogeneity/otherness allowed us to unpack Healthier. Happier. and understand how anti-obesity discourse is reproduced and perpetuated even in a campaign that aims to take a different approach. We are now able to consider new ways to approach public health pedagogies to overcome the inequity and stigma that have historically prevailed in this field.