Strong Health Policy or the Nanny State?
In their review of A Big Fat Crisis, Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren King question how realistic author Deborah Cohen’s policy recommendations are with respect to supermarket, restaurant, and food industry products and advertising. Whereas Cohen focuses on the failure of individuals’ approaches to control obesity, the reviewers provide insight into how the public health approach to the obesity problem has been received and suggest some reasons for negative reactions and responses. Public health approaches to issues typically focus on system-wide, population-level interventions, which in the case of obesity challenge the individual effort/personal responsibility ideology frequently encountered in the political discourse of the United States. It is perhaps this deeply ingrained ideology that leads to the public’s resistance to a broad range of policy efforts, such as school lunch standards and the recent effort to regulate the size of soft drinks sold in New York City, designed to protect the public health.
Olbrisch and King call for a “balanced message that counterweighs a public health approach with education about effective individual actions that do not blame but do empower” (last para.). However, as a reader, I was struck by the need to think through a balanced approach to American ideology; the increased complexity of living in a society strongly influenced by corporate interests and economic influence may increase the need for government, as the publicly elected social institution, to protect the population in a way that individual action cannot. Finally, can psychology help to move the public discourse away from blame and stigma directed toward those who are obese to business and industry accountability for the food environment that has been created?
By Mary Ellen Olbrisch and Lauren A. King
PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)