Human vulnerabilities, transgression and pleasure

Lee Thompson, John Coveney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In the face of the ‘obesity epidemic’ public health has largely failed to engage with the human pleasures that surround eating. Pleasures are often linked to vulnerabilities and frailties that are part of being human. We argue in this paper that leaving human vulnerabilities and the pleasures that haunt them under-acknowledged and under-examined within public health contributes to the problems that public health tries to solve. While in some quarters debates revolve around the best ways of encouraging people to become responsible for and modify their own behaviour, the well-documented centuries of struggle with managing human vulnerabilities and pleasures helps to explain why this is no easy task. The mantra of restraint, reason, and rationality is very limited in the face of the importance of some pleasures, even small ones, in human lives. In unequal societies, people have unequal access to pleasures. People are presented with a landscape of temptation, encouraged to consume, and then unequally admonished for indulging according to their means. Understanding and democratising pleasures will involve public health grappling with pleasures, and all those concerned with health inequity asking hard questions about ethics, morality, and intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-128
Number of pages11
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • morality
  • obesity
  • Pleasure


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