Name: Dolly Theis
Based at: University of Cambridge
Supervisors: Professor Martin White (University of Cambridge)
Project title: What influences policymaking? The case of childhood obesity in England
Project summary: Globally, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has almost tripled since 1975, making it one of today’s most pressing public health challenges. The UK has the highest prevalence of obesity in Western Europe starting in childhood. Since 1991, the UK government has recognised the need to address this through ‘healthier’ policies and introduced several major strategies. In an attempt to ensure effective and evidence-based policies are introduced, many public health professionals and academics have been actively attempting to influence the policy process for decades. However, these efforts have largely been criticised for failing to understand empirically the complex processes within policymaking; for focusing too narrowly on the epistemic assumption that increasing scientific evidence and knowledge will automatically improve policy; and for failing to be informed by empirically-derived policy theories from social and political science. To help address this, I seek to generate high-quality, empirical evidence on the obesity policymaking process. This PhD research will use a single case study approach with causal process tracing methodology to examine what influenced the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan Chapter 1 and 2, including individuals, organisations, ideologies and values, evidence and information. It will also examine how and why the specific policy solutions arose.
Practice/public engagement: I am developing a scientific and policy advisory group for the project which will involve a minimum of one member of the public in addition to academics and other experts who will meet once a year to hear about research progress and offer advice on interpretation and future directions. I intend to complete a practice placement over the course of my PhD in the civil service to better understand policymaking firsthand. I will also be conducting elite interviews with senior policymakers.