Negotiating healthy eating : Lay, stakeholder and government constructions of official dietary guidance in Sweden

Sammanfattning: This thesis approaches dietary guidance as socio-culturally produced and comprised in a specific historical context. The work is premised on the position that ideas and understandings of healthy eating are discursively constructed, and that we form our understandings of the world, ourselves and others through discourse. The theoretical approach builds on the Foucauldian notion of governing, which includes how the state governs people through strategic techniques and individuals’ self-governing in relation to discursive norms related to official institutions. The four studies included in the thesis therefore explore how healthy eating and official dietary guidance are negotiated and constructed from stakeholder, lay and policy perspectives. Paper I takes a stakeholder perspective on “appropriate” national dietary advice by exploring 40 written responses to updated official dietary guidelines. Paper II and III focus on lay people’s discourses on dietary guidance and healthy eating by examining their written correspondences (727 and 60 digital messages, respectively) with the Swedish Food Agency. Paper IV examines how the Swedish Food Agency’s official dietary guidelines frame the interplay of public health concerns and environmental concerns in making food choices.The findings demonstrate the dominance of a nutrient-centered and scientific discourse in communication (arguments, statements, instructions and questions) related to official dietary guidance in the Swedish context, even among non-professionals (in stakeholder responses, lay messages and the official dietary guidelines). In lay people´s communication with the Swedish Food Agency, both resistance to and internalization of official dietary advice are expressed within this dominating discourse. Resistance is additionally expressed through emotional language and by referring to alternative authorities, including personal experiences. The nutrient-centered and scientific discourse builds on the basic assumption of individual responsibility for health and the taken-for-granted nature of the primacy of physical health. Environmental perspectives come secondary to nutrition, which is demonstrated by their subordinate status in the official dietary guidelines and limited presence in lay people´s correspondences. Most socio-cultural, emotional and structural aspects on eating are made invisible by these discourses, in which food figures as scientifically quantifiable or functional in relation to physical health. However, in the official dietary guidelines from 2015, an additional discourse of cultivating certain tastes as a key to a sustainable diet constructs an ‘ideal eater’ with ‘middle-class’ aspirations.