Centre for Food Policy Research
  1. PhD students
Food Policy

Sharon Noonan-Gunning

PhD research

Critical policy analysis exploring the meanings of social class in context of food-related obesity policy, focusing on experiences and solutions of working class parents.

The study

Sharon Noonan-GunningArguably, child obesity in contemporary times is a product of modern capitalism - a multifactorial problem including social gradient in England.  Individualising, responsibilising and stigmatising policy discourses place greatest burden on the poorest parents.  This is bound within deficit model of parenting.  Whilst the food practices of parents with overweight children are under the microscope, there is little research about their food-related policy experiences and solutions.

Qualitative enquiry set within Critical Theory paradigm used document analysis and semi-structured interviews with sixteen policy actors: policy makers and implementers, and sixteen parents as policy recipients.  In the context of the ‘local state’ field work was carried out in an inner London Borough.

New policy direction is needed.  Rooted in inequalities, the study has emancipatory aims through exploring policy solutions with working class parents.  The research explores disconnect between parents and the state.  It further aims to contribute to theory building on social class, to inform policy and practice, and move forward the involvement of parents in food policy

Tensions and disconnect between parents and policy are potential barriers to tackling obesity in children. Despite the pivotal role of parents as actors in obesity management, literature suggests that parental involvement in food and obesity policy processes is negligible. Literature on parents' views and experiences of causes, barriers, solutions, and views on responsibility is small compared to observational and experimental studies of parental practices. Involvement of parents as vocal stakeholders, especially from working class families, whose children are most at risk, would be beneficial in shaping obesity policy and interventions.

A multi-level policy analysis explores how parents inform food and obesity policy, and how policy represents parents and family. Investigation of interventions at national level, for England, focuses on how and whether parents are involved in evaluations. A case study approach is used to explore interplay of parents with,food and obesity, policy process at local state level.

Why it matters for food policy

Social gradient in child obesity suggests food distribution, food poverty and food democracy are central to child health.  This critical analysis argues that food policy development should give much greater weight to the views and experiences of parents whose children are most exposed to obesity.  This will support the creation of policy that is connected with parents’ experiences and solutions.

Conference presentations

  • 2015 Critical Dietetics International Conference
  • 2016 BSA National Conference – Social Policy and Social Division
  • 2016 (September) BSA Medical Sociology – Critical Public Health Division

Research interests

  • Family, food and health
  • Food and social class
  • Food policy process
  • Class activism and food
  • Mixed method research and Critical Pedagogy

Education and Employment

  • 2009 to present PhD candidate. Expected submission 2016.
  • 2015 Introductory Certificate in Academic Practice and module in Curriculum Development and Evaluation, City University
  • 2005 Post-graduate Diploma in Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • 2002 Kings Fund Community Leadership Programme Award for a food project with Vietnamese women in London
  • 2001 BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Dietetics University of North London.  Caroline Walker Trust Award for dissertation: Evaluation Toolkit for Community Nutrition Project
  • 2005 to September 2015: Community Paediatric Dietitian, Specialist Child Weight Management Whittington Health NHS Trust.
  • July 2003 – 2005: Programme Manager, MEND RCT New Cross. Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust.
  • 2002 – 2003: Community Paediatric Dietitian Sure Start Evelyn, Lewisham Primary Care Trust.
  • 2001 – 2002: Community Dietitian, Bart’s and the London NHS Trust,
  • 1996 – 2001:
    • Dietician, Homerton Hospital, Hackney
    • Consultant with Health First, Lambeth and Southwark PCT;
    • Scientific Officer for Food Standards Agency (review of the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals).
  • From age 23 years to 35 years (ie.1996) I was fulltime organiser for radical left organisation.  This included co-founder of the ‘Campaign Against Domestic Violence’, and numerous campaigns on social issues including housing, racism and justice.