Short horizons and obesity futures: Disjunctures between public health interventions and everyday temporalities

Megan Warin, Tanya Zivkovic, Vivienne Moore, Paul R. Ward, Michelle Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the spatio-temporal disjuncture between 'the future' in public health obesity initiatives and the embodied reality of eating. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in a disadvantaged community in South Australia (August 2012-July 2014), we argue that the future oriented discourses of managing risk employed in obesity prevention programs have limited relevance to the immediacy of poverty, contingencies and survival that mark people's day to day lives. Extending Bourdieu's position that temporality is a central feature of practice, we develop the concept of short horizons to offer a theoretical framework to articulate the tensions between public health imperatives of healthy eating, and local 'tastes of necessity'. Research undertaken at the time of Australia's largest obesity prevention program (OPAL) demonstrates that pre-emptive and risk-based approaches to health can fail to resonate when the future is not within easy reach. Considering the lack of evidence for success of obesity prevention programs, over-reliance on appeals to 'the future' may be a major challenge to the design, operationalisation and success of interventions. Attention to local rather than future horizons reveals a range of innovative strategies around everyday food and eating practices, and these capabilities need to be understood and supported in the delivery of obesity interventions. We argue, therefore, that public health initiatives should be located in the dynamics of a living present, tailored to the particular, localised spatio-temporal perspectives and material circumstances in which people live.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-315
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Bourdieu
  • Disadvantage
  • Future
  • Obesity
  • Public health prevention
  • Temporality


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