A number of comparatively recent epistemological shifts draw attention to the body, among them developments in social (including feminist) theory and gender studies. In many social science and humanities disciplines, there is now considerable research and debate about notions of embodiment. Yet despite the fact that our subject matter is, ultimately, the life and death of human bodies, public health has remained largely silent on the question of what bodies are and how our public health work, whether academic or applied, is shaped by ideas about embodiment. Consequently, public health notions of the body remain implicit, ambiguous, often contradictory and incoherent.

In this discussion, I strive to make explicit what some of our implicit ideas might be, to speculate on why bodies are excluded from most public health discourse, how that exclusion is achieved, and the consequences for public health research and practice. In an active consideration of the fundamental subject matter of public health, I invite attention to where and how greater self-consciousness about embodiment and its consequences might instigate shifts in public health thinking and action.