Engaging, enabling, empowering consumers in solving obesity

Statement of Problem and Its Importance

Obesity is an exceedingly complex problem. At one level, it can appear strikingly simple: obesity is the result of a long term imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. That is, too much food, and too little activity. However, these two forms of behavior (food consumption and activity) are likely the result of human preferences. Humans, like many other animal species, prefer more food/tastier food to less, and prefer to expend less effort (money, time, energy) than more. These preferences are a function of both nature (biology, genetics) and nurture (personal influences such as parents, spouses, peers, siblings; and broader social influencers such as religions, food marketers, leisure marketers, governments, etc.). Moreover, these many factors are very likely to interact in many complex ways.

On top of this, the effort to constrain the bourgeoning of obesity at a collective and individual level is distinctly different from previous social problems arising from consumption of tobacco, alcohol, drugs. Food – unlike tobacco, alcohol, drugs – is needed, it is a biological imperative.

The challenge for controlling obesity is that we are inviting consumers not to abstinence, but moderation. Stopping from starting has long been recognised to be easier than stopping once started: “easier to resist at the beginning than at the end” (Leonardo da Vinci).

The Goal of the Proposed Track

This session advances a previous dialogical session (RMIT 2015) in which the wicked nature of the obesity problem was explored. The goal of this session is to move forward and despite the challenges, explore a very specific question: “how might we solve obesity?”.

In this vein, participants are sought who have specific ideas on helpful ideas on interventions that might be implemented, perhaps at the consumer, commercial marketing, social marketing, health and public policy levels or some combination.

Each participant (or team of participants) will be invited to present a précis of their ideas along with some estimates of the effect-size of their proposed interventions. Estimates of potential effect-size are required even if extant research is qualitative, limited or even non-existent.

An open discussion will follow each presentation in which the strengths and limitations of the ideas will be explored, and further ideas will be added.

Between 8–10 individuals (both academic researchers and industry professionals) with a demonstrated interest or prior work in the areas of marketing, nutrition and obesity will be selected to participate. Our intention is to submit a conceptual paper on the topic to the 2017 TCR conference special issue on Transformative Consumer Research.

Tentative Structure of the Track Session

Pre conference

Eight to ten participants (including the track chairs) with a demonstrated interest or prior work in this area will be selected to participate. Each participant will be asked to prepare a poster (in PowerPoint) which outlines their ideas for addressing the obesity problem. Participants are asked to give special attention to estimating the potential effect size of the intervention. The poster PowerPoint will be shared with all participants for review four weeks prior to the conference.

Conference Day 1

Morning session.

Poster session: all posters will be displayed around the room. Each participant will have an opportunity to present the ideas in their poster.

Roundtable discussion: participants will be able to contribute to a discussion on the ideas presented in each other’s the posters.

The session will conclude with a discussion to clarify the track goals.

Afternoon session.

The session will reserve time for a more general exploration of all the ideas, commonalities, gaps, discrepancies and additional ideas. Relative effectiveness of potential interventions will be considered explicitly.

Conference Day 2

Morning session

The session will aim to integrate the work completed on Day 1.

Afternoon session.

Session will discuss, revise and integrate the group’s work with constructive feedback to develop the outline and tasks for the special issue paper.

Post conference

We plan to write a conceptual paper for the 2017 TCR conference special issue on Transformative Consumer Research that provides a research agenda to assist in answering the question: “how might we solve obesity?


Stephen S Holden

Adjust Professor, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University

Natalina Zlatevska

Senior Lecturer of Marketing at the University of Technology Sydney.

Joy Parkinson

Lecturer in Social Marketing, Griffith University