Medicine, morality and mothering: Public health discourses on foetal alcohol exposure, smoking around children and childhood overnutrition

Kirsten Bell, Darlene McNaughton, Amy Salmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past few decades, three issues have emerged as threats to the health of infants and children in western, industrialised countries: the developmental impact of alcohol use in pregnancy (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD), children's exposure to second-hand smoke in the home, and childhood overnutrition and obesity. The definitive role of drinking during pregnancy, exposure to second-hand smoke and overnutrition on negative health outcomes in infants and children remains the subject of considerable debate. Nevertheless, all three issues have been medicalised and criminalised: framed as looming health emergencies that require immediate intervention and, increasingly, legislation. However, it is our contention that the alarm these health ‘threats’ currently generate has many of the characteristics of a moral panic. In this paper we unpack the discourses surrounding these three issues, and explore the common focus on maternal responsibility and the ways in which these movements serve to covertly marginalise and stigmatise particular groups of women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-170
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2009

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