SDHI Seminar ‘Rethinking the ‘war on obesity’ – an ethical argument

SDHI are delighted to announce another seminar.  It will take place on:

Friday 18th May 2012

between 2pm and 4pm

and will be led by

Dr Stacy Carter

Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine

University of Sydney 

Stacy M. Carter is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney; from 2012 to 2015 she is an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Fellow. Her empirical and theoretical work focuses on the ethics of public health, her methodological work focuses on qualitative research. In her
current funded projects she is investigating ethical aspects of three public health practices: health promotion, intervening in overweight and obesity, and screening populations for cancer. She is also participating in projects on diverse topics including: preventive care in dentistry, marijuana smoking in the Northern Rivers of NSW, and how tobacco smokers quit without assistance. She leads the public health ethics research stream at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney.

Rethinking the ‘war on obesity’: an ethical argument

This seminar will be held in

Room 2F13, Dalhousie Building

University of Dundee

In recent decades, society has changed in ways that promote development of non-communicable diseases. Urban environments, transport systems, and food production and supply systems interact to increase the prevalence of chronic diseases in populations. I will refer to this as a disease- promoting social shift. However, I will argue, we have developed a bad habit in population health. We have become accustomed to referring to this disease-promoting social shift as a problem of overweight and obesity, and thinking of ourselves as focusing our interventions on overweight and obesity. I will argue that this is not necessary: we can address the disease-promoting social shift without focusing on bodyweight. Focusing on bodyweight is also unethical for four reasons. First, it distracts from the fundamental causes of the problem, unjustly suggesting that responsibility rests primarily with individuals. Second, it causes some harm and fails to recognise other important harms. Third, it feeds arguments about ‘the nanny state’ and thus focuses debates on alleged erosions of relatively unimportant consumer freedoms, while diverting attention from more morally significant erosions of freedom of opportunity. Fourth, it neglects, and even exacerbates, problems of inequity. I will conclude that we should stop thinking of ourselves as being engaged in a ‘war on obesity.’ It would be more ethically justifiable to think of ourselves as intervening in the societal structures and conditions that are leading to increases in non- communicable disease, and to act accordingly.


If you would like to attend this seminar please contact Rosanne Bell

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