What is Health-ism?

We have been researching the concept of health-ism in preparation for a webinar we are recording for the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). (We’ll let you know when it’s available!)

We came across this definition of health-ism written by Lucy Aphramor PhD, RD for her Well-Now program:

Health-ism is a belief system that sees health as the property and responsibility of an individual and ranks the personal pursuit of health above everything else, like world peace or being kind.

It ignores the impact of poverty, oppression, war, violence, luck, historical atrocities, abuse and the environment from traffic, pollution to clean water and nuclear contamination and so on. It protects the status quo, leads to victim blaming and privilege, increases health inequities and fosters internalized oppression. 

Health-ism judges people’s human worth according to their health.

In our work at Be Nourished, we often say we are helping people “keep the lens wide”. We live in a culture that offers endless solutions for digestion, weight change, health optimization and longevity. We emphasize food cures and give lip service to reducing stress. And we struggle to speak openly and directly about the variables affecting health the most—trauma, oppression, environmental changes and inequalities, and disparities in our healthcare system.

No doubt about it, it is difficult to sit with the big unsolvables in clinical work when we have a slew of handouts that can make us feel like we have offered something actionable and concrete. (We get it. We also have handouts.) It is even more difficult to acknowledge the complexity of factors impacting a person’s well-being when our healthcare systems are focused on measurable outcomes.

We’d like to suggest it is possible to make room for both. That holding space for the difficult-to-speak-about is part of the answer and is not particularly time consuming (really). There is healing in acknowledgement. In fact, this is where the medicine of human connection lives. If we could collectively research and market connection like an anti-inflammatory supplement, we would really be in the business of change.




Click the birdy to tweet: What is Health-ism? https://benourished.org/what-is-health-ism/

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1 Comment

  1. Tara W on August 10, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    I just found your amazing blog from a link shared by a good friend. Thank you for this sacred space!

    I love the definition of health-ism you share, and I think I would add the word “physical” to the following sentence: “ranks the personal pursuit of PHYSICAL health above everything else, like world peace or being kind” and in my experience, this is often to the detriment of mental health wellness.

    Thank you again, and I look forward to this journey with you.