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Patient Educ Couns. 2010 Oct;81(1):47-52. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.10.022. Epub 2009 Nov 30.

"Norwegians fear fatness more than anything else"--a qualitative study of normative newspaper messages on obesity and health.

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  • 1Research Unit for General Practice, Unifob Health, Kalfarveien 31, N-5018 Bergen, Norway.



To explore normative aspects of the Norwegian discourse on obesity.


We conducted a qualitative study with data from five Norwegian newspapers, focusing normative entries about body weight. Discourse analysis provided a focus on the cultural attitudes when systematic text condensation was conducted. Data comprised 26 normative messages (prescriptions or comments on how obese people are or should be, messages mediating or discussing values prescribing a 'good' body).


Two main normative domains within the obesity discourse were identified. One group of entries warned about obesity from an aesthetic point of view, notifying the reader that beauty would suffer when weight increases, due to reduced attractiveness. These texts appealed to bodily conformity, linking leanness with attractiveness and delight, suggesting that fat people are ugly and unhappy. The other group referred to lack of control in the obese person, linking greediness to lack of responsibility and bad health. Fat people were displayed as undisciplined and greedy individuals who should be ashamed.


Cultural messages of blame and shame are associated with obesity, but also spreading from body weight to the very scene of life. People with obesity cannot escape this cultural context, only find a way of coping with it.


Quality care for people with obesity implies that public health and clinical medicine acknowledge the burden of cultural stigma. Developing awareness for cultural prejudices on body weight, doctors could counteract stigmatization and contribute to empowerment and health.

(c) 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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