Members of the University of Kent's Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS) will host an event on Monday 21 March to explore 'Feeding children in the new parenting culture'.
The event is being funded by the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness, and will be held at the British Library conference centre in London.
What children consume in their early years - breast or formula milk, 'healthy' or 'junk' food - is a topic of often heated public debate. Childhood eating has become powerfully linked in the social and political imagination to problems such as obesity, cancers and even intellectual development and emotional health. Such problems are now routinely described in catastrophic terms. These days, questioning the validity of efforts to shake up apparently complacent parents and compel them to change the dietary habits of the young, risks widespread opprobrium.
This event will document and critically assess this increased attention to infant and childhood eating, and look at the effect this has had on parents themselves. Discussions will explore the kinds of claims made by various interested parties about feeding children, and focus on how the moralisation of this area of life impacts on parental experience and identity.
The event will feature a lecture by Dr Joan Wolf of Texas A&M University, author of Is breast best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood (New York and London: NYU Press). Discussants joining Professor Wolf will be Professor Elizabeth Murphy (Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Science, University of Leicester), Dr Mary Fewtrell (Reader in Childhood Nutrition, Honorary Consultant Paediatrician, Institute of Child Health, UCL) and Zoe Williams (columnist, The Guardian).
There will also be sessions on 'Feeding children in the 'obesity crisis' - which will look at the cultural meaning of 'obesity epidemic', and how this idea impacts on parent-child relations - and 'Food, motherhood and meaning', which will explore the way women internalise and struggle with ideas about what it means to be a 'good mother' when it comes to feeding children. One of the papers in this session will address current debates around weaning infants onto solid food, and some of the implications of 'baby-led weaning' for mothers.
Dr Ellie Lee, Director of CPCS, said: 'Childhood eating has become increasingly central to initiatives which aim to combat a range of social problems by modifying the behaviour and habits of parents. Yet the consequences of this drive for 'healthy eating' are rarely appraised honestly. For example, research into feeding babies, including our own, has shown that is this aspect of parenthood has become profoundly moralised with important effects for maternal experience. Evidence suggests that in general health promotion initiatives often have very set ideas about what is the right way to feed children and fail to take into account important elements of the parenting relationship.
'We hope that this event will highlight some of these issues as well as critically assessing the evidence on which the drive to change the way parents feed their children appears to be based.'