Childhood obesity has become a global health issue of epidemic proportions. In Globesity, Food Marketing and Family Lifestyles, Stephen Kline incorporates the underlying issue of how capitalist societies deal with lifestyle risks that citizens become exposed to in the free market economy. Reviewed by Philippine Reimpell.

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Jessie Chan (Mandarin LN340, teacher Lijing Shias part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

Globesity, Food Marketing and Family Lifestyles. Stephen Kline. Palgrave MacMillan. 2010.

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Stephen Kline’s latest book traces how the issue of obesity has moved onto the global political agenda to become a health issue of epidemic proportions. Over the last decade childhood obesity has been a daily staple of the media world, and Kline charts the resulting moral panic and discussions over blame and responsibility. As the issue became ever more salient the pressure on governments to act has been further fuelled by research reports and prophecies of ballooning health care costs associated with a failure to curb such an epidemic. Kline argues that this linkage of health issues and economic consequences finally put obesity on the policy map, and is visible in actions like the 5-A-Day and the Change-4-Life campaign in the UK.

Kline, Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Canada, incorporates the underlying issue of how capitalist societies deal with lifestyle risks that citizens become exposed to in the free market economy. The differences arise due to varying ideological perspectives on the accountability of the state. Kline illustrates how obesity has been addressed in the United States with its strong protection of commercial free speech: in lawsuits against the food and advertisement industry, any accusations were quickly refuted as matters of free choice and individual responsibility. Conversely, in the United Kingdom where public health has a long tradition, the effects of advertising were taken more seriously and resulted in a ban of junk food advertising during children’s programmes.

Once children moved onto the agenda, the effects of food and advertising had to be re-examined in a new light, resulting in a deluge of studies with varying conclusions. Kline claims that the evoked image of the “vulnerable child consumer” poses a profound challenge to neo-liberalism, which views consumers as literate and able to make their own choices without government intervention. This turn also invoked discussions over the responsibility of parents for their children’s expanding waistlines.

Image Credit: (martin.mutch CC BY 2.0)

The book moves on to the effect of different parenting styles. This shifts the focus from actual consumption towards the social implication of rising materialism in childrearing and child consumer empowerment and evolves into a critique of different styles of parenting in dealing with this contemporary problem. Kline indirectly highlights the irony that, in an attempt to counter the effects of advertising, parents need to teach their children to become sceptical navigators of the marketplace. To do this, parents often revert to snacks and television as rewards and punishments, which may in fact glamorize the core elements of the obesogenic lifestyle.

Kline certainly brings a number of interesting issues to our attention, most prominently the failure to classify obesity as a societal problem rather than a medical one. But sadly many interesting issues are only mentioned in passing: most notably the contextual difference that arises due to Britain’s history of public outrage over GMOs, BSE and foot and mouth disease that ties obesity more closely to industrial food production which is not the case in the United States.

In light of the finding that the effects of television and junk food are highly dependent on other characteristics of the child it is a shame that more politically sensitive aspects remain unaddressed. Substantial issues such as poverty, family structure and overarching societal trends are left unexamined. Genetic factors aside, perhaps if we stop regarding obesity as a result of moral failure we will dare to investigate its true causes in our societies. Until then we are left with the rather unsatisfying conclusion, that whether a lifestyle aspect causes obesity or not … well, depends. Thus, it seems that decades of research have roughly taught us that obesity is the result of eating more than we should; why we do this is a vastly more complicated question that will not be answered in this book.

This review was first published on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog on 27th February 2011.


Philippine Reimpell is currently working at the BBC World Service Trust. Her work deals with the impact of community radio on governance in Sierra Leone, Angola and Tanzania. She previously worked as a research officer on the Sensitive Technologies and European Public Ethics project in the Methodology Institute at LSE. She has degrees in molecular biology, global politics and quantitative research methods for political science (the latter two from LSE). Read more reviews by Philippine.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


书评: 《全球肥胖,食物营销和家庭生活方式》 Stephen Kline. Palgrave MacMillan. 2010.

Review translated by Jessie Chan (Mandarin LN340, teacher Lijing Shi).

Stephen Kline 最新的著作描述了肥胖症的问题是如何成为全球政治议题,成为健康问题中流行性传染病的项目之一。过去十年,儿童肥胖症的问题已经是各媒体每天的报道主题之一,而Kline指出了它衍生出来的道德恐慌,以及有相关责骂和责任的讨论。由于这问题变得越来越突出,政府采取行动的压力进一步推动了研究报告以及该流行病如若防治失败所带来的高额卫生保健费用的预言。Kline认为该健康问题和经济后果之间的关系最终把肥胖症的问题纳入政策层面,并且可以在英国的 ‘’5-A-Day’‘和 ‘’Change-4-Life’’ 运动中看见其实行。

加拿大西蒙费雷泽大学翻译系教授-Kline综合了资本社会主义如何处理公民在自由市场里的生活方式所带来的风险背后的原因。这个差异的形成是因为每个人都对国家的问责制度持着不同的观点。Kline说明了肥胖症的问题是如何在美国高度的商业自由言论保护下被对待:在针对食物和广告行业的诉讼中,任何指控都会以自由选择或个人责任为由而被快速驳回。反之在英国,公共健康已经拥有十分悠远和深厚的传统,他们对于广告所带来的后果更认真对待,因此禁止在放映儿童节目时播放垃圾食物广告。

一旦儿童议题进入了议程,食物和广告的影响必须在新的角度下被重新审查, 从而带来了大量结论不一的研究。Kline表示,争论纷纷的‘脆弱的儿童消费者’ 形象深刻挑战‘新自由主义’, 因为后者认为消费者是有文化的并能够在没有政府干预的情况下做出自己的选择。这样也引发了父母是否该为孩子们腰围变大而负责的讨论。

Image Credit: (martin.mutch CC BY 2.0)

接着,这本书谈论了不同养育方式的后果。关注点从实际消费转移到养育儿童者中日益严重的物质主义的社会影响, 以及儿童消费者; 并逐步自己建立对不同养育方式处理现代问题的批评。Kline 间接强调了讽刺的地方在于:为了抵制广告的影响,家长需要教导孩子成为市场中带有疑问心的导航员。为了达到这一点,家长经常把零食和看电视来当作奖励或者惩罚,而事实上可能美化了导致肥胖症的生活方式的核心元素。

Kline 当然也为我们带来的一些有趣的问题,最主要的是错把肥胖问题当成社会问题,而不是一个医疗问题。但是遗憾的是这些有趣的问题只是偶尔被提及。如,最显著的不同在于社会历史背景的差异: 英国大众一贯对基因改造食品转基因食品(GMOs), 疯牛症(BSE)以及手足口病的愤愤不平,这些问题显示出肥胖问题与工业食品的生产更息息相关;可在美国却不是这样。

鉴于电视和垃圾食物的影响是高度取决于儿童本身的其他特征,令人感到失望的是这本书并没有深入讨论更政治敏感的层面。也没调查其他相关的重要议题,如贫穷,家庭结构问题,总体社会趋势等。除了遗传因素之外,也许当我们不再视肥胖问题为道德败坏的后果,就敢于去调查这问题发生的真正的社会原因。在此之前,我们对到底是不是生活方式而引致肥胖的问题依然没有满意的结论。因此,似乎几十年的研究已经粗略地告诉我们肥胖问题是因为我们吃得太多。那我们为什么会这么做却是一个异常复杂的问题;这本书也不能完全解答。

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