Childhood obesity, corporate philanthropy and the creeping privatisation of health education

Darren Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Concerns about a global childhood obesity crisis have led to a proliferation of primary school-based health education policies and practices. What is surprising, however, is the recent explosion of ‘obesity prevention’ programmes and resources that are devised, funded and implemented by multinational corporations and marketed to schools as ‘health education’. In this article, I draw on two corporate anti-obesity/health education programmes that are promoted to primary schools in the United Kingdom and Canada. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of governmentality, I examine how the ‘problem’ of childhood obesity has become an opportunity for corporations and other institutions to govern children. In particular, I interrogate how specific technologies of government – privatisation, corporate philanthropy and multi-sector partnerships – align with the neoliberal political rationality. I also argue that even though the explicit aim of corporate ‘anti-obesity’ programmes is to help ‘educate’ children to make healthy lifestyle choices, they actually work to position children as self-governing citizen-consumers and attempt to transfer the responsibility of children’s bodies and health onto children themselves. I suggest further research is necessary to understand how children and teachers experience these various programmes and how corporate anti-obesity curricula play out in primary school contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-238
Number of pages13
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number2
Early online date2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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