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Measuring Fatness, Governing Bodies: The Spatialities of the Body Mass Index (BMI) in Anti-Obesity Politics

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The Body Mass Index (BMI) is the dominant means of defining and diagnosing obesity in national and international public health policy. This paper draws on geographical engagements with Foucault's work on biopower and governmentality to question the power afforded the BMI in obesity policy. With reference to a UK public health intervention involving the measurement of children's bodies within schools, the paper questions the multiple materialities and spatialities of the BMI with reference to both its role in the construction of geographies of obesity and its (in)ability to capture the fleshy, material, and experiential bodies of those individuals involved in the process of measurement. The paper contributes to poststructuralist health geographies through writing fleshy, active bodies into a Foucauldian reading of health and illness, thus questioning the justifications and implications of an obesity politics focussed on the BMI.

Keywords: Foucault; biopolitics; bodies; children; governmentality; obesity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK;, Email: 2: Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK;, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2009


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