Policy Sciences

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 345–365 | Cite as

‘Hoisted with our own petard’: evidence and democratic deliberation on obesity

  • John BoswellEmail author


Key actors engaged in debate on obesity in Australia and the UK subscribe to radically different narratives about the nature, extent and even existence of this public health problem. Yet there is a common thread to these clashing narratives: evidence. All are emphatic that their story is ‘evidence-based’. In this paper, I seek to examine this state of affairs by looking at how actors think about, use and interpret evidence across a range of sites of policy debate on this issue. In doing so, I contribute to academic inquiry about the place of evidence in democratic deliberation. Firstly, I find that there is a high degree of consensus among actors who promote differing interpretations of the issue on what evidence means and entails in the abstract. Secondly, I find that the differing narratives on obesity are underpinned by different interpretations of the evidence, but that internal inconsistencies affect each of these competing narratives as well. As such, I argue that policy actors should not be seen just as strategically marshalling convenient evidence to support a preconceived cause. Overall, I suggest that these findings have mixed implications for democratic deliberation on the issue, enhancing the deliberative side of the equation but undermining the democratic. I then point to ways in which the goals of evidence-based and democratic policymaking on this issue may be further reconciled.


Evidence-based policy-making Deliberative democracy Obesity Science and public policy Public health policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Politics and International RelationsThe University of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK
  2. 2.ANZSOG Institute for GovernanceUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia

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