An examination of public health anti-obesity campaigns: Are these campaigns ethical, and if not, could they be?
Governments and public health bodies discuss obesity in terms of being the latest great epidemic, a top contributor to early mortality, and a disease that must be cured. From this perspective, public health organizations around the world have spent the last decade attempting to educate the public about obesity and change behaviours thought to contribute to becoming obese. In my research, I analyse the ethics of the campaigns that these public health organizations have created, finding that many of them sacrifice ethical standards of truth-telling and respect in favour of quick, catchy, and manipulative messages. I also find that these messages utilize and contribute to the on-going discrimination, marginalization, and imperialization of the fat body, which amounts to a situation of oppression. The results of this oppression are observable in the lives of fat people, with research showing negative impacts upon career prospects, personal lives, and self-regarding attitudes. The impact upon important self-regarding attitudes that contribute to the capacity for self-governance and self-authorization ultimately means that fat individuals become less able and less likely to undertake the behavioural changes that public health encourages. In sum, campaigns that take the form of those examined in this project are unethical, and would have to change significantly to be ethically produced. Public health undermines its own work, while also worsening the health of some groups, in taking the approach to obesity that we have seen in the past five to ten years.