Bringing disgust in through the backdoor in healthy food promotion: a phenomenological perspective

Bas de Boer*, Mailin Lemke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


Obesity has been pointed out as one of the main current health risks leading to calls for a so-called “war on obesity”. As we show in this paper, activities that attempt to counter obesity by persuading people to adjust a specific behavior often employ a pedagogy of regret and disgust. Nowadays, however, public healthcare campaigns that aim to tackle obesity have often replaced or augmented the explicit negative depictions of obesity and/or excessive food intake with the positive promotion of healthy food items. In this paper, we draw on a phenomenological perspective on disgust to highlight that food-related disgust is connected to the character and behavior of a perceived individual even in the context of promoting healthy food items. We argue that the focus on “making the healthy food choice the easy choice” might be an important step towards the de-stigmatization of people that are affected by obesity. However, so we suggest, this focus threatens to bring back an image of individuals affected by obesity as disgusting “through the backdoor”. It does so not by portraying bodies with overweight as disgusting, but instead by implying that lifestyle choices, character and habits of people that are affected by obesity are markers of a lack of control. We argue that the close relationship between disgust and the perception of self-control in the context of obesity should be taken into consideration in the context of assessing the implications of new health promotion strategies to minimize the risk of stigmatizing people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-743
Number of pages13
JournalMedicine, health care and philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Disgust
  • Healthy food promotion
  • Obesity
  • Phenomenology
  • UT-Hybrid-D


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