The Soda Cap: How PhotoVoice Can Help Design More Acceptable Health Policies

"Photovoice [is] an emerging qualitative research method [that]uses photography to enhance an understanding of participants’ experiences." (Wang and Burrin, 1997)Photo taken from:

“Photovoice [is] an emerging qualitative research method [that]
uses photography to enhance an understanding of participants’ experiences.” (Wang and Burrin, 1997) Photo taken from:

On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s highly publicized “Soda Cap” (better known as the “Soda Ban”) was blocked by Justice Milton A. Tingling of the State Supreme Court.

Among the reasons why the law was struck  down include: 1) only City-owned food service establishments would be required to follow the regulation, excluding bodegas, which are regulated by the State and ironically more prevalent in high-risk neighborhoods, and 2) other sweetened beverages, including sweetened dairy drinks, are exempt by the ruling, despite evidence that sweetened dairy is one of the main culprits behind climbing obesity rates in countries currently in transition.

Although Judge Milton’s points are correct, are these the only reasons why the Soda Cap was put to a halt? It’s important to consider a third point, one hanging on everyone’s mind: the people didn’t want the Soda Cap.

Although evidence shows that 79% of NYC students drink sodaportion sizes have increased and large portion sizes may be contributing to the obesity epidemic, few studies explored what community members themselves perceive as barriers to good nutrition and what they may consider as viable solutions.

PhotoVoice as a Bottom-Up Approach
 is a process of handing cameras to target populations that lack an active voice in their community, such as youth and minorities, thus allowing them to capture and express their perceived barriers and facilitators to healthy living. In this regard, PhotoVoice is a tool for exploratory qualitative research – a method of finding the problem rather than finding the solution. Prior to solving an issue (obesity, for example), PhotoVoice takes an exploratory approach to reach the root of the problem. The research method has been used to explore hungercookingphysical activity, among a long list of other topics.

By entrusting under-represented populations with cameras, PhotoVoice engages, empowers and hands community members a voice. Had such an approach been taken by the NYC Department of Health, it’s possible that the size of soda may not have emerged as a prime area of concern (at least not in the eyes of community members). It would benefit city government to seek advice from the community prior to making decisions for them, as bottom-up approaches tend to be more readily accepted than regulations made from the top.

See more example of PhotoVoice in action by clicking on through the gallery below:


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