Abstract

The aim of this paper is to reflect critically on the current health promotion initiatives targeting overweight individuals in Western countries. The paper’s methodological approach is to draw on analytical findings from my and other sociologists’ empirical work on how the problems of overweight people are being defined in various settings in Denmark, England, Australia and the US. I try to illustrate how health promotion targeting overweight individuals can not only be seen as a project aimed at securing longer lives and fewer illnesses for people carrying excess fat but also a moral project that, in a more general sense, aims to tell people how they ought to live their lives.

I link this moral aspect of health promotion to a) the medicalization tendency in current Western society (e.g. a growing pharmaceutical industry and its economic interest in transforming the human condition of being overweight into a treatable disorder) and b) the strong focus on individual risk today.

One of the main arguments in the paper is that health in relation to overweight is primarily defined from a biomedical perspective that praises certain physical measurements of the body, as well as dominant societal values such as  self-responsibility and self-control, and that a combination of biomedicine and these dominating values can lead to health promotion becoming a problematic moral endeavour.

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