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Social Problems and Social Policy

Introduction to Overweight and Obesity in Australia

To understand the concept of ‘social problems’ for which we do not have any affirmative definition, it is easy to relate it with the social constructionist approach.[1]This approach is based on societal analysis of how any problem is perceived to be problematic and what kind of problem is it understood to be. For example in some parts of the world drinking and driving do not match up. Hence it is punishable by law and the convict is looked social ignominy. There is a phenomenon what tells about human behaviour. It is devised by an artist Susannah Hertrich, who through her art differentiated between 'actual hazard' and 'public outrage.'[2] She elaborated this novel concept through some diagrams. So to interpret, a social problem which might be a problem for one kind of humans may not be the same for the other kind. That she termed it to be 'actual hazard.' Any problem that might bring any discomfort to a certain sect of homo sapiens. For example, heat is harmless but despite this Eric Klinenberg in his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago have stated it to be a social problem as it has killed many people every year and continue too.[3] This is a social problem for states like Chicago. But this is not in the real sense an actual social concern because there is the better part of the world who love the heat and are actually in dire need of it, because for their habitat. Contradictory to this, things like terrorism, these are actual and real social problems which have been termed as 'public outrage' by Susannah. It antagonizes a great deal of outrage amongst people worldwide. Though it is not of any interest to any single individual being, even then this term raises quite disgust for those who practice it. 

The construction of a social problem is not a matter of months or years. It is somewhere etched in the roots of any clan or a civilization, which passes on from generations to generations. If one were to comprehend the current global pandemic of Covid-19, so earlier it was perceived to be a disease which captured China. Nobody in the entire world even thought of it to be deadly. Just like any other virus which comes and go like Ebola virus, malaria, dengue etc, it was considered to be a mild one. The medical experts say that it was a major contributing factor that why this disease broke all the past pandemic records as countries never perceived it to turn into a global pandemic. One such example to this is the United States of America, where the Trump administration was not able to understand which took them, long after they realized this. If no concretive vaccine to this gets formulated, this disease has no end and God forbids that it might turn into a hereditary disease.

History

The concept of social problems has been a concern for many sociologists in the past years. They have questioned now and again who had the right or the authority to term any problem as a social problem. Many of them had the view that it is the responsibility of the social scientists to a term which problems are social ones and also help them to amend it. it was the view of the pioneering social scientists like Fuller and Myers, Blumer, Kituse and Spector and Becker that the social scientists must study how the social problems are constructed.[4] The people tend to deal with specific types of problems and not abstract conditions. For example, they are not concerned with poverty, but specific groups that deal with poverty. This concept has lost its touch because people do not believe in social problems as they are poorly defined and because there is not much of any interdependence of the variables that contribute to the social problem.[5] For example, if any politician term that illiteracy is the essential reason by poverty in a country, so these two variables, illiteracy and poverty do not match up as a person's poverty is not related to whether he is a literate or not. It the states duty to feed properly its subjects and keep them away from every disparity. 

Stages to Social Problems

It is seen that for any problem to become social problems, it has stages involved in it. there is societal recognition, societal legitimization, the mobilization of the action, the formation of an official plan of action and last implementation of the official plan.[6] Societal recognition is the stage where anything that is causing harm to society is recognized.[7] For example any disease like spreading of Covid-19 virus, or health-related issues like obesity, heart diseases, domestic issues like domestic violence etc. This stage is the first stage of any social problem as people start to get to know what is what and what is that they are facing. Like slavery. For years and years, no one paid any heed to that because it was a feature passed from one generation to another. It was later when people realized that freedom is an inhibit right of any person and it cannot be given to anybody as it is a birthright.

The second stage is societal legitimization where any social problem has crept into any society for a long period of time, it is termed to be legitimate and given the name of tradition.[8] For example, slavery. It was at a very later stage when sociologists realized it to be a social problem. Otherwise, for centuries it was a legitimate social problem as people had dealt in this and learnt to live within chains. To have this societal legitimization eradicated, there has to social endorsement for the same. It means it becomes the responsibility of various sociologists to make the common people aware of the social problem. For these platforms like the press, media of communication, churches, schools, civic organizations, the organs of the democratic governments etc play a huge role.

The third stage is the mobilization of action after having passed the above two-stages. This stage is wherein the discussions, the controversies, the differing opinions of heads creep out.[9] Those who have the fortitude to change the arena of the problems seem to have clashed with the ones who endeavour to keep their vested interest, safe. For example, there have been a quite many of hue and cry when human rights organizations, people and many countries were determined to abolish slavery and now and then it used to be the manifesto of a lot many of election campaign.

The fourth stage is of formation of an official plan of action. This is the stage where the people show their opinion on how they look upon the social problem. This is when at legislative assemblies, chambers and executive organs of the government start discussions on how to deal with the problem and make the alteration if any.[10] The official plan itself shows how the people interpreted the problem and how they perceived it and the possible solution they formulated. 

The final stage is the implementation of the official plan. This is the final stage of the social problem wherein the possible result or outlook of the social problem, after passing all of the above stages is given an end.[11] This means that it could be termed as a social problem or not by a certain group of people. For example, slavery, in the end, was termed to be a social problem and global act of human rights violation and hence abolished world-wide.

Instances of Social Problems Being Ubiquitous

Obesity

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11th October 2017, The World Obesity Day, released a report which said that obesity has reached a stage where it is not in-born but a scourge.[12] The reports show that nearly 2.8 million people die every year due to this plague. In the European region, there are nearly 23% of women and 20% of men affected by this. Obesity does not lead to mockery out of people but also leads to chronic disease like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases etc. Obesity stigma hits hard of young children who too are affected by this. School-aged children are bullied and made out a mockery off by their peers, family and friends which leads to depression, low-self esteem, resulting in suicide. 

Countries like Australia are the worst hit of all. Nearly 23% of the Australian children and adolescents are under over-weight, with 6% in acute obese conditions.[13] However, these are only estimated figures as no systematic researching in this sector has been done since 1995. But experts say that since then the number has increased by a triple.[14]One-quarter of children and two-thirds of adults have been stricken by this disease and the numbers are at a rise still.[15] In 2014-2015, 20% of the children between 2-4, 27% of children aged between 5-17.[16] As for the adults, 63% of Australian adults are obese with almost 71% of men and 56% of women as per the records of 2014-2015.[17] Coming to the indigenous and non-indigenous groups so, the indigenous adults are supposed to be more obese compared to the non-indigenous ones.[18] A Select Committee was established in the year 2018 to inquire into this in Australia. It scrutinizes the prevalence of obesity in Australia over the years and the change in the percentages; the cause of the rise in numbers; concerning the health-hazards open to the children; policies and programs to improve the health standards; how much role does the food industry has on contributing to obesity in the country or any other matter of concern that could be helpful to provide aid to the people.[19] The government has fastened its approach to help out the people. They have made healthier food available at very reasonable prices and reduced the promotion of unhealthy ones. Health In All Policies (HiAP) is another programme that develops a relationship between different social departments to cater to different social health hazards. The South Australian government has been taking the help of HiAP since 2007. Departments like environment and botanic gardens, housing, transport etc have been taken into account to provide better facilities for the people.[20] 

The reasons for this disease is quite obvious and predictable. Talking about children so now due to the advent of technology and with everything being available on a silver platter, there is less of any interaction of children with anybody. During their leisure time, they prefer to play video games or watch movies than to go out and play. An increase in sedentary activities have to lead to less of any physically active time for children and hence they are more succumb to this disease. There has been a sudden decrease in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and more of energy-dense foods like hot dogs, burgers and pizzas.[21] Society is the major contributor to this disease. The fast life, the food-carriers available at every mile, more and more marketing of energy-dense foods, the reduction of the physical curriculum at schools etc. are the factors.[22]

Domestic Violence

Many sociologists also consider gender as a socially constructed term that has been shaped by contributing cultural factors like family, faith, schooling, jobs and the media. This is a result of much of gender stereotypes which have crept into society and we have become a part of it. The concept of nuclear families which was endorsed by the government especially between the 1550s and 1700s,[23] have now become a noose in the neck for people, especially women. This cultural system made the man the bread-earner of the family and the women the nurturer of the children. This lead to a dominance of the former over the latter which eventually lead to domestic violence, which has shifted from being a private family matter to a public matter or social problem. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a report in 2007 stating that there are nearly 15% to 71% of women who faced domestic violence in some way or another.[24]

According to the Commonwealth Office for Women (OFW), domestic violence could be done in many forms like physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, economic deprivations and threat of violence. Though this is prevalent in almost the whole of Australia, mostly its seen regional and rural Australia and indigenous groups.[25] There is no demarcation amongst the regional, rural and remote areas of Australia. They are classified on the basis of population and their distance from the urban areas and accessibility of goods and services in those areas by The Australian Standard Geographical Standards (ASGC) and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2014.[26] According to the 2005 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 36% of women who faced domestic violence reported to the police compared to 19% in 1996.[27] However, these percentages are a mere guess as many of the women in Australia do not report such events.[28] The ABS Personal Safety Survey, 2013 showed that 21% of women living outside the urban areas have experienced this since the age of 15. Similarly, records of The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health shows that most of the violence on women in these regions are done majorly by their partners.[29]

The reason for this seems to be two-fold. One is the society and second is the role of women. The society, especially talking about the gender norms, they seem to be restrictive to the atrocities against women as compared to the detailed elaboration of the same in urban areas.[30] For example, masculinity is synonymous to strength, courage and domination.[31] The patriarchial set-up of such regions normalizes this act of abuse and control over their women.[32] Another reason is the ideals of people of these regions to keep their private matter private. This is the major reason why women are not able to raise their voices against such deprivations and atrocities. Further, they are under constant to be disbarred from the community forever or be an object of shame and disgrace to the families.[33]

Conclusion on Overweight and Obesity in Australia

Social problems do not stand up on their own within a fortnight. It is prevalent in society now and then which one sees on televisions or reads in newspapers. We tend to ignore that as it does not concern us, an individual. But that is what a social problem is. During its inception stage, it is always an individual problem but as per time and with no one to regulate it, it tends to become a social problem. Then starts the shouting and marching on the roads. It won't be wrong to a term that excess of everything is going to be hazardous in the end. One such example to this is of freedom of the press. Earlier journalist and the press were subdued a lot. Then came the concept of a fundamental right is democratic countries which also recognized this. Now everywhere, round the world, the press has no limitations and no one can bar them to do their work. But giving an unrestricted power had made us so vulnerable that we do not have the authority to stop them. They consider it to be their moral-cum-legal right to infringe our privacy and no one is going to look at them from the eyes of culprits. If that country's constitution gave them a right to propagate their ideas freely, the same constitution gives the right to its common people too to lead their lives with privacy. Before any judicial trial is done, there is always a media trial. So now the time has come to explicitly draw a line on what needs to be done and what is not. Otherwise we ‘modern people’ of the 21st century are no different from the people of 17th -18th century who also felt slavery is their tradition and their right to practice it.

References for Overweight and Obesity in Australia

Wade, L. (2009). The social construction of social problems. Retrieved from https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/09/30/the-social-construction-of-social-problems/#:~:text=One%20way%20to%20study%20social,a%20function%20of%20social%20interaction.

Lopata, H.Z. 1984. Social Construction of Social Problems Over Time. University of California Press and Society for the Study of Social Problems, 31(3), 249-272.

Dyckman, J. W. 1968. Social planning, social planners, and planned societies. New York: Random House

Blumer, H. 1971. Social problems as collective behaviour. JSTOR, 18(3), 298-306.

World Health Organisation. 2017. World Obesity Day: Understanding the social consequences of obesity. Retrieved from https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/nutrition/news/news/2017/10/world-obesity-day-understanding-the-social-consequences-of-obesity

Booth, M.L., Wake, M., Armstrong, T. et al. 2001. The epidemiology of overweight and obesity among Australian children and adolescents, 1995-1997. Aust N Z J Public Health, 25, 162- 169.

Magarey, A.M., Daniels, L.A., & Boulton T.J. 2001. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australian children and adolescents: Reassessment of 1985 and 1995 data against new standard international definitions. Med J Aust, 174, 561-565.

Australia Institute of Health and Welfare. 2017. A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/overweight-obesity/a-picture-of-overweight-and-obesity-in-australia/contents/summary

Department of Health, Australia. 2019. Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/Overweight-and-Obesity 

Newman, L. 2014. More than a health issue: addressing the social determinants of obesity. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/more-than-a-health-issue-addressing-the-social-determinants-of-obesity-29945

Waters, E. B. & Baur, L. A. 2003. Childhood’s obesity: Modernity scourge. Medical Journal of Australia, 178(9), 422-423.

Victoria State Government. 2013. Obesity in children-Causes. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/obesity-in-children-causes

[1] Vann, R. 1977. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England. Journal of Family History, 1500-1800.

García-Moreno, C., et al. 2005. WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women. World Health Organization.

Carrington, K & Phillips, J. 2003. Domestic violence in Australia: An overview of issues. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/archive/Domviolence?print=1

Campo, M. & Tayton, S. 2015. Domestic and family violence in regional, rural and remote communities: An overview of key issues. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/domestic-and-family-violence-regional-rural-and-remote-communities

Phillips, J., & Vandenbroek, P. (2014). Domestic and family violence in Australia: An overview of the issues. Parliamentary Library Research Paper, Canberra: Parliament of Australia. Retrieved from www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1415/ViolenceAust.

Mishara, G. et al 2014. Health and wellbeing of women aged 18-23 in 2013 and 1996: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Canberra: Department of Health.

George, A., & Harris, B. (2015). Landscapes of Violence: Women surviving family violence in regional and rural Victoria. Geelong: Centre for Rural and Regional Law and Justice, Deakin University.

Carrington, K., McIntosh, A., Hogg, R., & Scott, J. 2013. Rural masculinities and the internalisation of violence in agricultural communities. International Journal of Rural Criminology, 2(1), 1-22.

Loxton, D., Hussain, R, & Schofield, M. 2003. Women's experience of domestic abuse in rural and remote Australia. Retrieved from www.ruralhealth.org.au/7thNRHC/Papers/refereed%20IO%20papers/loxton.pdf.

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