The policy implications of ‘thinking problematically’: problematizing Big Food’s role in obesity policymaking

Type Article

Journal Article


C. Loughnane

Year of publication



Health Promot Int







Practitioners need to engage with the contested nature of public health policymaking. This study, stemming from a concern that the involvement of Big Food is not widely problematized in health promotion practice, used 'What's the Problem Represented to Be?' discourse analysis to examine how Big Food, as a discursive actor, reacted to and shaped a problem representation of childhood obesity. Analysis of Big Food documents, including Coca-Cola and Burger King, developed during the regulation of broadcast advertising to children in Ireland found that Big Food constructs the problem of childhood obesity in a way which privileges its role as policy actor; it draws on and undermines public health discourses of obesity; and it negates the impact of corporate practices on obesity and on related policymaking. An in-depth analysis of Big Food's own documents provides access to the processes of knowledge production and governing undertaken by Big Food. The study offers two tools of resistance for health promotion practitioners to interrogate and challenge Big Food-problematization as a policy tool and 'corporate influence' as a critical public health discourse.