Background for the SSH-initiative – University of Copenhagen

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Background for the SSH-initiative

Obesity is a rapidly growing public health challenge, and it is becoming one of the main health problems in the world with high societal and individual costs. Transdisciplinary research deeply integrating researchers from social sciences and humanities is necessary to solve this still growing challenge.

Severe obesity is a gateway to many other chronic diseases, such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and heart diseases, and cancer, as well as a multitude of adverse social and psychological conditions affecting quality of life, mental health, physical health, and health care costs as well as the efficiency of the workforce.

The obesity epidemic should be taken very seriously and tackled strategically by a united Europe. There is a need for research to analyse obesity from a more complex and system-oriented perspective by using transdisciplinary approaches combining social sciences and humanities with biomedical sciences. By facilitating this approach, we can open our horizons for new paradigms that recognise obesity as an output of a complex system and thus not limited to an understanding of human physiology.

Unleashing the potential in obesity research

Addressing obesity as a complex phenomenon requires determination from all sides.

We need to change and broaden our view of obesity by looking at the role of social structures, the social inequality and stigma associated with obesity, and the cost-effectiveness of initiatives and interventions and by critically evaluating the potential in choice architecture, behaviour change, and various forms of policy development and political regulation. Through social sciences and humanities, it is possible to include the point of view of the obese individuals, their rights and status as citizens, their life stories, and their personal narratives, and this will also open up questions on the impact of obesity discourse on the non-obese population and other societal issues pertaining to history, social conditions, morality, law, aesthetics, and psychology. At the same time, we are able to heighten our awareness of societal effects and the consequences of the obesity epidemic and take into account the obesogenic environment, the obese themselves, and the way society and individuals address obesity.

Integrating insights from social sciences and humanities radically broaden our perspectives on the obesity epidemic.

To create the best starting point for effective transdisciplinary collaborations, and to meet the expectations outlined in Horizon 2020, there is a need for a platform gathering the different disciplines constituting social sciences and humanities research to explore, how SSH between disciplines and in collaboration with the natural sciences can best contribute in finding solutions towards tackling the obesity epidemic.

The SSH-initiative aims at creating this platform across Europe.

The aims of the SSH initiative are

  • to deliver new insight on the challenges, potentials and priorities in obesity research though events and workshops
  • to establish new and strengthen existing networks of European researchers within the SSH research area of obesity for forthcoming research collaborations
  • to showcase the high potential in addressing obesity as a societal challenge approached through transdisciplinary practices deeply integrating researchers from social sciences and humanities.