Healthism in HPE: Are we slaying ideologies or perpetuating myths?

Year: 2016

Author: Alfrey, Laura, Penney, Dawn, O'Connor, Justen, Jeanes, Ruth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper focuses specifically on pre-service HPE teachers’ understandings as they relate to ‘healthism’. Healthism is a dominant ideology that is positioned at the intersection of morality, blame, illness and health, and which reflects the medicalisation and individualisation of social life. The ideology of healthism is underpinned by the assumption that an individual’s health is determined by their ability to ‘resist’ a plethora of socio-cultural processes, such as culture, advertising, environment and disease. Healthism was first discussed from a HPE perspective in the late 1980s, and it was argued that HPE was a site for the production and re-production of healthism. Indeed, existing research has rendered a picture of the HPE profession as steadfastly resistant to change away from dualistic and instrumental understandings of health and the body, and towards more inclusive, progressive and student-centred practices and pedagogies. Pre-service HPE teachers’ understandings of the Health-Physical Education nexus has been the focus of limited research, with Welch and Wright (2011) and Garrett and Wrench (2012) being two of the few exceptions. This paper draws on data from a sub-scale of the DISEd-HPE which focused on healthism. Statements within the scale were drawn from the literature and, in line with Crawford’s (1980) definition of healthism, focused upon notions of individualism, choice, morality, responsibility and wellbeing. Findings from the data are examined in relation to each of these notions, and the discussion addresses the ways in which pre-service teachers variously appear to be reproducing or questioning the ideology of healthism.