The Social Construction of Obesity in a Local Coalition

Pannone, Aaron F., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Heinecke, Walter, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cohn, Wendy, PBHS Public Health Sciences Admin, University of Virginia
Covert, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Richardson, Jeanita, PBHS Public Health Sciences Admin, University of Virginia

The purpose of this study is to examine how the public problem of obesity is socially constructed in a community setting and translated into policy action. The study examines the assumptions embedded in the construction of the overweight and obese categories that influence the community response to the obesity problem. I utilized casestudy methods to explore the conditions, processes and consequences of a public health coalition, hereafter referred to as the Coalition (Hall & McGinty, 1997). The Coalition constructs community policies to address obesity. Policy for purposes of this research is the translation of individual intentions into concrete actions through a process of interactions (Hall & McGinty, 1997) . The problem of childhood obesity is understood as the Standard CDC definition, the causes of obesity, and the problems associated with obesity. This understanding influences the action of volunteer local professionals who join together to reduce the prevalence of obesity and to improve nutrition and physical activity. Coalition members have utilized available resources, such as their expertise. Coalition members have provided partner groups with professional knowledge, volunteer time, and grant funding. Coalition members also created new knowledge for local use. Unfortunately, little improvement has been seen in the Coalition's outcome of choice, the prevalence of obesity in public schools students. The results of this study have important implications for public health practice. Coalition members must strengthen the link between their action and the people who will ultimately experience reduced obesity or improved nutrition and physical activity. Coalition members must also keep in mind that supporting other Coalition member action can result in limited results distributed over many focus areas. This study has found that Coalition members have an understanding of obesity that is more humanistic than the sociology of obesity measurement would imply. This study has also found that the Coalition utilizes an appropriate definition of policy, according to Guba's (1984) model. Further study is needed to understand what effort and measures would better link policy solutions to a reduction in obesity and an improvement in nutrition and physical activity.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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