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"Too much of that stuff can't be good": Canadian teens, morality, and fast food consumption


  • McPhail, Deborah
  • Chapman, Gwen E.
  • Beagan, Brenda L.


Recently, public health agents and the popular media have argued that rising levels of obesity are due, in part, to "obesogenic" environments, and in particular to the clustering of fast food establishments in Western urban centers that are poor and working class. Our findings from a multi-site, cross-national qualitative study of teenaged Canadians' eating practices in urban and rural areas offer another perspective on this topic, showing that fast food consumption is not simply a function of the location of fast food outlets, and that Canadian teens engage in complex ways with the varied dimensions of choosing (or rejecting) fast foods. Drawing on evidence gleaned from semi-structured interviews with 132 teenagers (77 girls and 55 boys, ages 13-19 years) carried out between 2007 and 2009, we maintain that no easy relationship exists between the geographical availability of fast food and teen eating behaviors. We use critical obesity literature that challenges widely accepted understandings about obesity prevalence and etiology, as well as (Lamont, 1992) and (Lamont, 2000) concept of "moral boundary work," to argue that teen fast food consumption and avoidance is multifaceted and does not stem exclusively nor directly from spatial proximity or social class. Through moral boundary work, in which teens negotiated with moralistic notions of healthy eating, participants made and re-made themselves as "good" and successful subjects by Othering those who were "bad" in references to socially derived discourses of healthy eating.

Suggested Citation

  • McPhail, Deborah & Chapman, Gwen E. & Beagan, Brenda L., 2011. ""Too much of that stuff can't be good": Canadian teens, morality, and fast food consumption," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 301-307, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:73:y:2011:i:2:p:301-307

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fee, Margery, 2006. "Racializing narratives: Obesity, diabetes and the "Aboriginal" thrifty genotype," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(12), pages 2988-2997, June.
    2. Stead, Martine & McDermott, Laura & MacKintosh, Anne Marie & Adamson, Ashley, 2011. "Why healthy eating is bad for young people's health: Identity, belonging and food," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(7), pages 1131-1139, April.
    3. Rachel Colls & Bethan Evans, 2008. "Embodying Responsibility: Children's Health and Supermarket Initiatives," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 40(3), pages 615-631, March.
    4. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.058040_8 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Schneider, Dona, 2000. "International trends in adolescent nutrition," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(6), pages 955-967, September.
    6. Rachel Colls & Bethan Evans, 2008. "Embodying responsibility: children’s health and supermarket initiatives," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 40(3), pages 615-631, March.
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