The Social Construction of Fat: Care and Control in the Public Concern for Healthy Behaviour



Especially during the last decade populations of modern affluent societies are warned by scientist, politicians, media and interest groups that there is an obesity epidemic. Being overweight is now not only culturally condemned, but also medically and politically defined as a major public health threat. This article presents three lines of critique which is offered against this dominant public perception. Some argue that we need to change our attitude to fat irrespective of the medical truth. Others agree there is a problem, but they disagree with the analysis and therefore offer other solutions. Most fundamental is the kind of critique that starts with the question ‘But is it true?’

This question leads to three major conclusions. First, it turns out that the medical science is flawed, one-sided and contradicted. Second, because there are no effective therapies, present policies produce major negative side-effects. And third, these policies produce and legitimize discriminatory practices. A general conclusion which can be drawn from this critical literature is that the present risk discourse on fat has much more to do with social and cultural issues like power, blame and control than with health problems.