An ethical examination of public health communications

MacKay, Kathryn Langdon (2017). An ethical examination of public health communications. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Public health agencies engage in the public discourse through the creation and promulgation of various health-related campaigns. Using anti-obesity messages for context, I analyse the ethics of the communicative actions that public health engages in, finding that the ethical standards of truth-telling and respect for agents are frequently sacrificed in favour of quick, catchy, and manipulative messages. This is morally problematic. For example, in the case of anti-obesity communications, manipulative messages utilise and contribute to the on-going discrimination, marginalisation, and imperialisation of the fat body, which contributes to and reproduces oppression. This oppression is observable in the lives of fat people, with research showing negative impacts upon important aspects of social identity, and upon self-regarding attitudes. An impact of manipulative campaigns upon attitudes that contribute to the capacity for self-governance and self-authorisation may be that individuals become less able and less likely to undertake the behavioural changes that public health encourages. Further, a central aim of public health activity is the achievement of greater equity in society. I argue, in sum, that public health defeats its own behaviour-change efforts, while also undermining its central equity-focussed aim, in engaging in manipulative campaigns in the public discourse.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Medical & Dental Sciences
School or Department: Institute of Applied Health Research
Funders: Wellcome Trust
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine


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