Shifting blame/selling health: corporate social responsibility in the age of obesity

Authors


Address for correspondence: Clare Herrick, Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS e-mail: clare.herrick@kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper examines how and why health has become a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy for the global food and drink industry (FDI) in the context of current governmental and public calls to address mounting obesity rates. It argues that, despite the current prominence of health within CSR, there has not been a reciprocal interest by those adopting sociological approaches to the study of health and illness in the implications of this strategic uptake of health or in the viability and legitimacy of the state's own public health role. This omission is addressed through an empirical exploration of three contentions: first, that health and wellbeing may be used to secure brand value and consumer goodwill at a time when mounting obesity rates demand new levels of accountability from the FDI. Secondly, that the food industry, through CSR, may promote a narrow epidemiological understanding of obesity, shifting blame from ‘foods’ to ‘diet’ and from ‘diet’ to ‘sedentarism’. Thirdly, that CSR reporting and its associated practices have enabled the food industry to assume some responsibility for obesity prevention, thereby problematising the state's role in addressing its own ‘public health’ crisis.

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