Embodying Policy? Young People, Health Education and Obesity Discourse

Laura De Pian

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis stems from a large, international research project funded in the UK by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (RES-000-22-2003) and led by Dr. Emma Rich and Professor John Evans at Loughborough University between 2007 and 2009. The study investigated how new health imperatives and associated curriculum initiatives were operationalized within and across eight schools located in a county in the Midlands region of England. The schools were chosen to reflect a variety of socio-cultural settings in the UK, and specifically those that were typical of the Midlands county in which the study took place. The research findings formed part of a three-way international collaboration with parallel studies conducted in Australia (led by Professor Jan Wright) and New Zealand (led by Associate Professor Lisette Burrows) and revealed, among other significant findings, that whilst some young people are deeply troubled by obesity discourse, others are emboldened by it. In pursuit of this key finding, this PhD study departs from the aforementioned project through detailed case study exploration of the ‘emplacement’, ‘enactment’ and ‘embodiment’ of health policy in three of the eight UK schools from the ESRC-funded study, focusing specifically on the class and cultural mediations of health imperatives in each setting and the various ways these can affect a young person’s developing sense of self (particularly the relationships they develop with their own weight/size). Young people are considered to be ‘body subjects’ (Blackman, 2012) whose embodiments are assembled, performed and enacted in situ. I therefore speak of ‘troubled’, ‘insouciant’ and ‘emboldened’ bodies as categories which reflect the fundamentally agentic, contingent, relational and fluid nature of young people’s embodiment in time, place and space. Hence, whilst highlighting the deleterious and indeed ubiquitous effects of some health education programmes on some young people’s relationships with their weight/size, key findings presented in this thesis offer nuance and complexity to the notion of ‘the neoliberal body’ (Heywood, 2007; Rizvi and Lingard, 2010; Rose, 1999) through exploration of the ways in which contemporary health imperatives also have potential to privilege and empower some young people. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for policy makers, educators and researchers whose work concerns young people’s health and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Loughborough University
Award date18 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2014


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