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

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

‘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.

Diet, complexity, health policy, inequalities, public health
0958-1596
1-11
Savona, N.
9179e071-25fe-43c6-911d-2cbc14cb7b62
Thompson, C.
01ab3252-88e8-4133-a969-94f82479ec51
Smith, D.
e859097c-f9f5-4fd0-8b07-59218648e726
Cummins, S.
d4b26eb6-881f-452f-983e-974548b4dd4e
Savona, N.
9179e071-25fe-43c6-911d-2cbc14cb7b62
Thompson, C.
01ab3252-88e8-4133-a969-94f82479ec51
Smith, D.
e859097c-f9f5-4fd0-8b07-59218648e726
Cummins, S.
d4b26eb6-881f-452f-983e-974548b4dd4e

Savona, N., Thompson, C., Smith, D. and Cummins, S. (2020) ‘Complexity’ as a rhetorical smokescreen for UK public health inaction on diet. Critical Public Health, 1-11. (doi:10.1080/09581596.2020.1755421).

Record type: Article

Abstract

‘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.

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Savona_Complexity_smokescreen_CPH_FINAL_MS - Accepted Manuscript
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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 1 April 2020
e-pub ahead of print date: 30 April 2020
Keywords: Diet, complexity, health policy, inequalities, public health

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 440986
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/440986
ISSN: 0958-1596
PURE UUID: 33561572-7f45-4542-92ea-36167313424c
ORCID for D. Smith: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-0650-6606

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 27 May 2020 16:30
Last modified: 26 Nov 2021 07:17

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Contributors

Author: N. Savona
Author: C. Thompson
Author: D. Smith ORCID iD
Author: S. Cummins

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