Panel Paper: Macro Social Entrapment: Does Public Administration Reinforce the Obesity Epidemic?

Friday, April 7, 2017 : 4:40 PM
Founders Hall Room 475 (George Mason University Schar School of Policy)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ryan Kelly, Virginia Commonwealth University
Over the past 35 years, according to the State of Obesity, a project sponsored by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity rates have more than doubled in the United States.  Center for Disease Control 2015 data states that 34.9% of Americans over the age of 20 are now obese. 

One way of looking at obesity’s rate of escalation is through the concept of entrapment. Obesity, at this level of prevalence, is a complex phenomenon.  Many variables are used to explain the epidemic.  Entrapment though, in the psychological sense, describes an escalating commitment to behavior or decision making despite consistent negative outcomes. This behavior is arguably on display within America’s obesity problem. In the field of criminal justice, entrapment refers to a type of criminal defense, where the defendant alleges that without the solicitation of a government agent, the “crime” would have never been committed. Perhaps in a similar way, allegations can be made that government in complicity with the private sector creates or contributes to an environment that encourages obesity.

Predominantly, entrapment research looks at individual decision making and rarely does it pertain directly to the fields of public policy and public administration.  America’s obesity rates, though, suggest that a type of social entrapment is reinforcing contributing behaviors and decision making at a grand and macro scale.  At this level, a public solution from government and public policy is warranted, and certainly that solution has been evolving for years.

This exploratory study develops a framework to better understand what the author posits as macro social entrapment:

Macro Social Entrapment occurs when cultural norms and decision making that are reinforced or solicited from environmental and structural relationships lead to negative consequences that in aggregate, demand a public solution.

Utilizing epistemic pluralism, the study will review literature associated with the term entrapment and will draw on entrapment research from m­ultiple perspectives such as psychology, criminal justice, and business, and the fields of marketing and consumerism.  The study will identify and report on the connections that can be made from those perspectives to public administration and public policy.  These connections and analysis maybe beneficial to policy makers working on the issue of obesity, but they may also be useful to a number of additional consumer related challenges in fields such as transportation and energy.  Further, the paper hopes to expand on existing research to formulate a future research design that can more effectively explore and measure macro social entrapment.