Is obesity a negative word? Health professionals’ experiences and understanding of obesity management in Brighton and Hove

Lavinia Bertini // Anthropology // Wednesday 5th April 2017 // 1-3pm // Arts A103

According to statistics, the UK is the most “obese” country in Europe and obesity is described as a “burden” for the NHS in national policies. Here, obesity is biomedically defined as excessive weight due to caloric imbalance, and causes described as ‘embedded in an extremely complex biological system, set within an equally complex societal framework’ (Foresight, 2007). Responsibility is put on the individual to lose weight and adopt healthy lifestyle, with the NHS ensuring that ‘people (…) make the best possible choices for themselves’ (Department of health 2011).

Drawing on data extracted from a 15-months long fieldwork in Brighton and Hove, this presentation reflects on the organizational and emotional factors that come to play out in the local implementation of obesity-related policies. With a focus on GPs’ and nurses’ experiences of dealing with obesity management, it illustrates the stigma attached to the term “obesity” and how it is framed, understood, re-enacted, and resisted by health professionals with important consequences on diagnosis and treatment. It follows a reflection on the importance of addressing health inequalities, structural violence and culture of fatness/slimness to better understand obesity and its stigmatization.


Lavinia Bertini is a third-year PhD candidate in Social and Medical Anthropology. In her MA (University of Bologna) she investigated how biomedical knowledge on obesity and public debate on fatness influence each other and individuals’ perception of themselves. It focused on doctor-patient encounter in the endocrinology department of the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna, Italy.

Her PhD research draws on this previous experience and shifts its focus on the impact of obesity-related health policies on local clinical realities in the UK. By exploring everyday narratives and perceptions of obesity used by different actors such as GPs, nurses and weight loss groups’ participants this investigation promotes a reflection on body politics and technologies of policy and governance as well as on social reproduction of identities linked to health, social class and gender.

She is also a Doctoral Associate and member of CORTH (Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health)

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