» Archive for: July, 2012

posted by Roy Huijsmans

In discussions on obesity as a public health concern the spotlight is seldom on Japan, as it is regarded as one of the healthiest countries in the world when it comes to dietary practices.

Dr Kaori Takano’s article entitled ‘Tackling the Overweight Problem: Healthy Japan was no exception‘ in The Newsletter (No 60, Summer 2012) of International Institute for Asian Studies corrects this view. She draws from a report by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (2003) which observed that ‘only 6.7% of the 6th grade boys were overweight in the late 1970s, but the number almost doubled to 11.7% by 2002’, a phenomenon that is to a large extent attributed to the growing prevalence of western food in Japanese society.

The national government of Japan made tackling this growing child obesity problem a priority, Takano observes, and in 2005 the Basic Law of Food Education (Shokuiku Kihon Ho) was enacted. Interestingly, rather than regulating the industry, this law invited the industry into Japanese public schools to deliver ‘food education’ ‘so that children can build up abilities to make good food choices or shokusenryoku‘.

As a result, a leading potato chip maker (Calbee Foods) delivers ‘snack lessons’ to 3rd-6th graders in which children ‘would be asked to measure out the suitable amounts of potato chips as a snack, learn how to read ingredient labels on packages, and watch a video regarding appropriate snack times. In response to the same law, McDonald’s Japan has started providing free educational materials to public schools, including educational DVDs. And other junkfood producers do likewise.

Takano presents in her short article some of her research in more than 50 Japanese public schools about teachers’ opinions and practices concerning these corporate food education programmes, describing Japanese teachers’ concerns about the possibly contradictory messages flowing from such corporate food education programmes delivered in public schools. Whilst insightful, the governmentality and political economy of ‘fat talk’ and measures to address obesity through business remains unaddressed in her article.

In this light, it is worth reading Takano’s article next to Susan Greenhalgh’s recent work in the American Ethnologist (2012; 39, 3) entitled ‘Weighty Subjects: The biopolitics of the U.S. war on fat‘. Greenhalgh notes that ‘corporate interests have been a major force behind the escalation of fat talk’ and concludes with the observation that ‘in the war on fat, food corporations, which are now trumpeting their social responsibility as producers of “healthy” “diet” foods, continue to manipulate consumers’ desires by coming up with ever more biologically rewarding high-fat, sugar, and salt junk foods that alter our brain chemistry in ways that lead most of us to crave still more comfort food and some of us to engage in conditioned hypereating’. For her then, there is an obvious contradiction in the neoliberal idea of ‘self-governance’ (through involving the industry) that underpins a rights-based discourse of educating children into healthy consumers.

The University of Amsterdam has two vacancies (lecturer and assistant professor level) in its ‘Youth & Media Entertainment’ (YME) programme group (for vacancy details go HERE).

This group addresses the entertaining role of communication and information in the lives of children, adolescents, and emerging adults. YME’s theoretical orientation is interdisciplinary and its methodological approach multidisciplinary. The key questions in the research program of YME are: (1) Which individual or collective factors explain people’s use, attention, and attraction to entertainment media? (2) What are the patterns of use and the consequences of media entertainment? (3) Which processes can explain the influence of media entertainment on young people?

Conference Season

Category: conferences

6 Jul 2012

This month there are a number of major conferences relating directly to the CYS field. The Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth at Sheffield University organises its 4th international conference entitled ‘Celebrating Childhood Diversity’. ISS CYS faculty Kristen Cheney will host a session including presentations by a number of current CYS students on their research paper project.

Partly overlapping with the Sheffield conference is the 3rd International Conference of the Geographies of Children, Young People and Families hosted by the National University of Singapore. ISS CYS faculty Roy Huijsmans will host a session entitled ‘On the Move: Geographies of youth accessing work in Southeast Asia‘ including presentations by a number of ISS alumni.  

Lastly, ISS CYS faculty Suzanne Naafs and Roy Huijsmans contributed to a session entitled ‘Geographies of Young Adulthood and Employment Insecurity’ at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference which was organised by Philip Kelly (York University) and Esther Rootham (Oxford University).

It is increasingly recognised that young people are actively involved in migration, at times migrating without parents or adult guardians. This includes young people below 18 years of age (technically children) and over 18. It is especially in relation to this former group that debates are heated with protectionist discourses portraying young migrants as victims and out of place that need to be rescued, repatriated and rehabilitated. At the other side of the continuum young migrants are viewed as social actors who actively navigate the social process of migration. From this perspective young people’s mere involvement in migration is not the problem, but the exploitation too many young migrants experience. Hence, suggestion quite different policy implications.

The child migration cluster of the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty of the University of Sussex provides links to various studies and papers on the above themes. In addition, recent work on the theme includes work on agency, migration networks and gatekeepers, and a critique of the human trafficking discourse in relation to young migrants.

International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.