Diet, exercise…and drugs: social constructions of healthy lifestyles in weight-related prescription drug advertisements

Crystal Adams, Brittany M. Harder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Much research has examined the social constructions of overweightness and obesity in the broader society. This paper aims to contribute to this literature by examining the popular constructions of lifestyle behavior in direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) geared toward overweight and obese individuals. We are centrally interested in how pharmaceutical advertisements frame healthy behaviors as a solution to the experience of overweightness and in distinguishing how this framing differs from dominant discourses of health and obesity. We employ ethnographic content analysis to examine the healthy lifestyle discourses of 120 consumer-directed television ads for weight-related conditions. We identify two types of healthy lifestyle ads: (1) drug compliance ads, where behavioral changes around health management are largely restricted to the use of drugs, and (2) complementary drug use ads, where drug use and other types of healthy behaviors, such as diet and exercise, are regarded as essential components to a treatment regimen plan. In all ads, DTCA regards prescription drug adoption as a type of behavior change that, like diet and exercise, is necessary to minimize health risks. We find that to promote drugs, the pharmaceutical industry encourages lifestyle changes, and they do so by simultaneously drawing on and expanding upon the dominant public health discourse around healthy behavior. In finding that pharmaceutical companies frame drug use as a necessary component for overweight and obese individuals’ health management, this research contributes to the vast literature that problematizes normative views of the nature, causes, and treatment of obesity and weight-related conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-449
Number of pages11
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 8 2018


  • Direct-to-consumer advertising
  • health behavior
  • obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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