, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 299-312

Bringing political economy into the debate on the obesity epidemic

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Abstract

This paper takes what has been termed the “epidemic of obesity” as the point of departure to examine the way in which political economic factors intersect with diet and nutrition to determine adverse health outcomes. The paper proposes several concepts to better understand the dynamics of the “foodscape” – institutional sites for the merchandising and consumption of food. These include the concepts of “spatial colonization” and “pseudo foods.” With a focus on critical dimensions of the contemporary “foodscape,” principally supermarket merchandising practices, as well as trends in other food vending operations, the paper explores incentives that motivate capital to “spatially colonize” the foodscape with aggressively promoted high fat/high sugar “pseudo foods.” The paper reports on extensive research on trade industry publications as well as data collected through onsite investigations of supermarket practices of the three largest Canadian retail supermarket operations. In addition, current merchandising practices of convenience chain store operations and some non-traditional food vending sites are examined. In concluding, it is argued that the rapidly evolving interdisciplinary debate around the obesity crisis would benefit considerably from the insights to be gained from political economic analysis of retail food industry practices and trends.