Framing obesity: the framing contest between industry and public health at the New Zealand inquiry into obesity


Dr GL Jenkin, Health Promotion & Policy Research Unit, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, PO Box 7343, Wellington 6242, New Zealand. E-mail:


Drawing on submissions to the 2006–2007 New Zealand Inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, this article outlines how the food and marketing industries (industry) and the public health sector framed the issue of obesity. The analysis revealed that industry framed obesity as a consequence of poor lifestyle choices attributed largely to knowledge, cultural or other character deficits. Industry argued that lack of physical activity rather than increased food consumption was the dominant cause of obesity. In contrast, public health groups positioned obesity as a normal response to an obesogenic environment, characterized by the ubiquitous marketing and availability of low-cost, energy-dense/nutrient-poor foods. For public health groups, increased consumption of energy-dense/nutrient-poor foods was positioned as the dominant cause of obesity. Many public health submitters also suggested that social inequalities contributed to obesity. Industry emphasized education as the key solution to obesity, while public health groups argued for regulation of the activities of the food and marketing industries, and policies to address wider determinants of health and social inequalities. Identifying and documenting these frames, by making transparent the interests of the frame's sponsors, contributes to greater understanding of the wider policy context around obesity and provides useful information for public health advocacy.