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‘Complexity’ as a rhetorical smokescreen for UK public health inaction on diet

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‘Complexity’ as a rhetorical smokescreen for UK public health inaction on diet. / Savona, Natalie; Thompson, Claire; Smith, Dianna; Cummins, Steven.

In: Critical Public Health, 30.04.2020.

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@article{2fcf602ca93b493582b0c73f344b47ef,
title = "{\textquoteleft}Complexity{\textquoteright} as a rhetorical smokescreen for UK public health inaction on diet",
abstract = "{\textquoteleft}Complexity{\textquoteright} is theorised as a characteristic of modern food systems that poses a challenge to improving population diets. This paper seeks to explore the discursive deployment of {\textquoteleft}complexity{\textquoteright} in the context of public health. Doing so helps inform a more critical assessment of commercial and political determinants of health, and of {\textquoteleft}complexity{\textquoteright} as a prevailing frame for public health issues. Qualitative methods were used to explore {\textquoteleft}responsibility{\textquoteright} for healthy eating in the food system in the United Kingdom. Discourse analysis was conducted on corporate and government documents, and interviews with industry and government stakeholders. The aim was to examine the implications of {\textquoteleft}complexity{\textquoteright} within discourses of dietary public health. {\textquoteleft}Complexity{\textquoteright} was used not only to characterise dietary public health problems but also as a rhetorical device in public health narratives. It performed two main discursive functions: firstly, to represent diet-health problems as so multi-layered and difficult that they are intractable. Secondly, and despite this acknowledged complexity, to deflect from food system actions for improving diet to {\textquoteleft}simpler{\textquoteright} and non-food interventions, by industry and government. These uses of {\textquoteleft}complexity{\textquoteright} serve to attribute primary responsibility to individuals for dietary choice and to obscure inaction by government and industry, who have most control over the determinants of those choices. In short, {\textquoteleft}complexity{\textquoteright} can be used discursively to generate a smokescreen masking policy inaction in addressing public health problems.",
keywords = "Diet, complexity, health policy, inequalities, public health",
author = "Natalie Savona and Claire Thompson and Dianna Smith and Steven Cummins",
note = "{\textcopyright} 2020 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Critical Public Health on 30 Apr 2020, available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421.",
year = "2020",
month = apr,
day = "30",
doi = "10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421",
language = "English",
journal = "Critical Public Health",
issn = "0958-1596",
publisher = "Routledge",

}

RIS

TY - JOUR

T1 - ‘Complexity’ as a rhetorical smokescreen for UK public health inaction on diet

AU - Savona, Natalie

AU - Thompson, Claire

AU - Smith, Dianna

AU - Cummins, Steven

N1 - © 2020 Taylor & Francis. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Critical Public Health on 30 Apr 2020, available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421.

PY - 2020/4/30

Y1 - 2020/4/30

N2 - ‘Complexity’ is theorised as a characteristic of modern food systems that poses a challenge to improving population diets. This paper seeks to explore the discursive deployment of ‘complexity’ in the context of public health. Doing so helps inform a more critical assessment of commercial and political determinants of health, and of ‘complexity’ as a prevailing frame for public health issues. Qualitative methods were used to explore ‘responsibility’ for healthy eating in the food system in the United Kingdom. Discourse analysis was conducted on corporate and government documents, and interviews with industry and government stakeholders. The aim was to examine the implications of ‘complexity’ within discourses of dietary public health. ‘Complexity’ was used not only to characterise dietary public health problems but also as a rhetorical device in public health narratives. It performed two main discursive functions: firstly, to represent diet-health problems as so multi-layered and difficult that they are intractable. Secondly, and despite this acknowledged complexity, to deflect from food system actions for improving diet to ‘simpler’ and non-food interventions, by industry and government. These uses of ‘complexity’ serve to attribute primary responsibility to individuals for dietary choice and to obscure inaction by government and industry, who have most control over the determinants of those choices. In short, ‘complexity’ can be used discursively to generate a smokescreen masking policy inaction in addressing public health problems.

AB - ‘Complexity’ is theorised as a characteristic of modern food systems that poses a challenge to improving population diets. This paper seeks to explore the discursive deployment of ‘complexity’ in the context of public health. Doing so helps inform a more critical assessment of commercial and political determinants of health, and of ‘complexity’ as a prevailing frame for public health issues. Qualitative methods were used to explore ‘responsibility’ for healthy eating in the food system in the United Kingdom. Discourse analysis was conducted on corporate and government documents, and interviews with industry and government stakeholders. The aim was to examine the implications of ‘complexity’ within discourses of dietary public health. ‘Complexity’ was used not only to characterise dietary public health problems but also as a rhetorical device in public health narratives. It performed two main discursive functions: firstly, to represent diet-health problems as so multi-layered and difficult that they are intractable. Secondly, and despite this acknowledged complexity, to deflect from food system actions for improving diet to ‘simpler’ and non-food interventions, by industry and government. These uses of ‘complexity’ serve to attribute primary responsibility to individuals for dietary choice and to obscure inaction by government and industry, who have most control over the determinants of those choices. In short, ‘complexity’ can be used discursively to generate a smokescreen masking policy inaction in addressing public health problems.

KW - Diet

KW - complexity

KW - health policy

KW - inequalities

KW - public health

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85084252857&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421

DO - 10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421

M3 - Article

JO - Critical Public Health

JF - Critical Public Health

SN - 0958-1596

ER -