Responses to warnings about the impact of eating disorders on fertility: A qualitative study

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Eating disorders (EDs) have often been discussed as a risk to reproductive health. But existing research is quantitative in nature, paying no attention to issues of patient experience. In discussing data from 24 semi-structured interviews, this article draws on sociological approaches to medical ‘risk’ and feminist approaches to EDs to explore how women with experience of an ED responded to fertility warnings within treatment contexts. In doing so, it is suggested that responses to fertility warnings offer unique insight into the potentially damaging limitations of biomedical approaches to eating problems and their focus on EDs as individual ‘pathologies’ (rather than culturally embedded expressions of gendered embodiment). At best warnings are seen as making problematic assumptions about the aspirations of female patients, which may curtail feelings of agency and choice. At worst, they may push women further into destructive bodily and eating practices, and silence the distress that may be articulated by an ED.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)670-686
Number of pages17
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number4
Early online date21 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • gender
  • eating disorders
  • feminism

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