Leeds research: Mums blamed for nation’s obesity crisis

WEIGHTY ISSUE: The research was carried out by Leeds Beckett University.
WEIGHTY ISSUE: The research was carried out by Leeds Beckett University.
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Individuals, and women in particular, are being blamed for the obesity crisis in the UK - according to research by Leeds Beckett University.

The study, which has been published in the Qualitative Methods in Psychology bulletin, looks at the television documentary, ‘Jamie’s Sugar Rush’, examining the key messages within the programme and how these can help provide a solution to the obesity crisis.

A Leeds Beckett University spokesman said: “Within the programme there are three main themes; the dominant one being that individuals are to blame and should be self-disciplined and self-vigilant when it comes to making food choices.

“The other lesser themes are food industry responsibility and government responsibility. Here, according to Jamie Oliver, who is the lead figure in the programme, individuals are positioned as ‘passive victims of a misleading food industry and lazy government’.

“The theme of individuals being to blame is broken down even further with the fault being put on women and in particular mothers.”

Adele Wilson wrote the report while studying as an undergraduate in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University.

Explaining the research’s findings, Adele said: “Mothers are positioned as responsible for their health and that of their children. It is argued that mothers are predominantly held accountable for protecting their children against risks. Women are unevenly burdened with the responsibility of childcare and mothers are culpable for the health of their children, which serves to reinforce women’s responsibilities and roles as mothers.

“Mothers of obese children are often framed as bad parents and held responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Solutions to the obesity crisis, such as sugar tax and clearer labelling, also target the individual as they encourage people to become more vigilant over the food choices they make.

However, as Dr Maxine Woolhouse, senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, explained it is not all down to the individuals.

“The framing of individuals as solely responsible for their own health is to some extent resisted. In fact, individuals are shown to be victims of misleading messages from both industry and the government,” she said.

Dr Woolhouse, whose research interests are in the area of gender, social class and eating practices, is a feminist and critical social psychologist.

The senior lecturer is particularly interested in feminist and critical approaches to understanding relations between gender, social class and eating practices.


Leeds Beckett University is leading a programme to identify ways in which local authorities can create a whole systems approach in tackling obesity.

The three-year programme launched in 2015 to understand what is working well and what the opportunities and realities are for local authorities in tackling obesity.

The goal is to co-produce a road map that will enable local authorities to make a major step change in dealing with this important and challenging issue.