School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch | Danniella Samos (QMUL)

22 March 2018

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Venue: ArtsTwo 2.17

The war on the obesity epidemic: Obesity metaphors in three discourse types

Danniella Samos

Queen Mary University of London 


Rising rates of obesity pose a worldwide health concern. In 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men in the UK were overweight or obese (NHS Digital). Such rates may create unnecessary burdens on the UK economy through increased healthcare costs, loss of productivity, and premature deaths (Wang et al., 2011).

For this reason, it is important to study the transmission of information about obesity, with an aim of understanding how ideas about it circulate through society. Metaphors play an important part in this communication as they may influence the ways in which people perceive phenomena by highlighting certain aspects while obscuring others (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, Charteris-Black 2004). They act as framing devices, which can underlie attempts to define the causes of obesity – e.g. behavioural, environmental, or genetic – which can affect what might be regarded as a legitimate public health response to the issue (Barry et al. 2009) as well as people’s personal attempts to lose weight.

In this talk I will present results from a mixed-methods study in which I analysed three very different types of data relating to obesity – government policy, personal narratives from interviews with self-identified overweight and obese informants, and UK news media stories on obesity.

Specifically, I compare the ways in which metaphors frame obesity in four semantic domains: war, religion, epidemic, and addiction. Dominant conceptual metaphors include, for example, OBESITY IS A CONTAGIOUS DISEASE, and, BEING OBESE IS A SIN. Metaphorical framings such as these may cause moral panic, and increase stigmatisation and moral judgement of obese individuals.



Barry, Colleen L., Victoria L Briscoll, Kelly D. Brownell and Mark Schlesinger (2009). Obesity metaphors: How beliefs about the causes of obesity affect support for public policy. Millbank Quarterly 87(1): 7-47.

Charteris-Black, Jonathan (2004). Corpus approaches to critical metaphor analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

NHS Digital (2017). Online:, accessed 16 March 2018.

Wang, Y. Claire., McPherson, Klim., Marsh, Tim., Gortmaker, Steven. L., & Brown, Martin. (2011). Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. The Lancet, 378(9793): 815–825.