Childhood obesity in transition zones: An analysis using structuration theory

Mei Sheung Christine CHAN, Toity DEAVE, Trisha GREENHALGH

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Childhood obesity is particularly prevalent in areas that have seen rapid economic growth, urbanisation, cultural transition, and commodification of food systems. Structuration theory may illuminate the interaction between population and individual-level causes of obesity.We conducted in-depth ethnographies of six overweight ⁄ obese and four non-overweight preschool children in Hong Kong, each followed for 12–18 months. Analysis was informed by Stones’ strong structuration theory. Risk factors played out differently for different children as social structures were enacted at the level of family and preschool. The network of caregiving roles and relationships around the overweight ⁄obese child was typically weak and disjointed, and the primary caregiver appeared confused by mixed messages about what is normal, expected and legitimate behaviour. In particular, external social structures created pressure to shift childcare routines from the logic of nurturing to the logic of consumption. Our findings suggest that threats to what Giddens called ontological security in the primary caregiver may underpin the poor parenting, family stress and weak mealtime routines that mediate the relationship between an obesogenic environment and the development of obesity in a particular child. This preliminary study offers a potentially transferable approach for studying emerging epidemics of diseases of modernity in transition societies. Copyright © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-729
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


Chan, C., Deave, T., & Greenhalgh, T. (2010). Childhood obesity in transition zones: An analysis using structuration theory. Sociology of Health and Illness, 32(5), 711-729.


  • Obesity
  • Modernity
  • Urbanisation
  • Ethnography
  • Healthy cities


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