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There is wealth of evidence that points to the pernicious ways in which inequities in health are disproportionally borne. Equally there is a wealth of evidence that critiques the role of neoliberal imperatives for individuals to take responsibility for their health, a form of ‘cruel optimism’ (Berlant 2011) that is central to the reproduction of inequity. However, health interventions and public policy remain immune to addressing social determinants of health, and ignore the dynamics of power in food systems and society. Drawing from long term ethnographic research in an Australian community that has high levels of socio-economic disadvantage and obesity, and working with State and Federal committees and obesity initiatives, this presentation examines the processes and tactics of depoliticisation that are used to elide political and socio-cultural phenomenon. I argue that liberalism’s hold on universalisms, autonomy and individual liberty in obesity discourses subjugates a comprehension of political relations, positioning liberal principles and culture as mutually antagonistic. It is precisely this acultural positioning of liberalism that make it possible to remove recognition of the power that produces and contours the ‘metabolic rift’ between food systems, public health and equity priorities. How might obesity policy be different if we paid attention to this culturalisation of politics?
Megan Warin is an anthropologist and Professor in the School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide. Megan has worked in and across a number of disciplines in Australian and UK universities, including anthropology, gender studies, psychiatry and public health. She co-directs the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender, is a Robinson Research Institute research leader in biosocial approaches to health, and an international Fellow of the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity in the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her recent ARC Future Fellowship and ARC Linkage project examined how people in an Australian community targeted as ‘obesogenic’ respond to obesity interventions, and why obesity interventions continue to have limited reach. In collaboration with colleagues in health sciences, this research has broadened into an examination of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and epigenetics, and the ways in which women’s reproductive bodies and behaviours are positioned as key environments of temporality and health for future generations. A current ARC Discovery project (with Prof Emma Kowal, Dr Jaya Keaney, A/Prof Maurizio Meloni, Hetty Bryne) examines both the productive and limiting discourses of environmental epigenetics as an explanatory framework for intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians. Megan’s most recent book with ARC Future Fellow Dr Tanya Zivkovic – Unpalatable Politics – Fatness, Obesity and Disadvantage in the Australian Suburbs – was published in 2019.