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Bodies of concern? A qualitative exploration of eating, moving and embodiment in young mothers

Lucas, G. ORCID: 0000-0001-5941-5233, Olander, E. K. ORCID: 0000-0001-7792-9895 & Salmon, D. ORCID: 0000-0003-2562-2116 (2021). Bodies of concern? A qualitative exploration of eating, moving and embodiment in young mothers. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, doi: 10.1177/13634593211060760


In some countries, including the United Kingdom, young mothers' pregnant and postnatal bodies remain an area of concern for policy and practice, with interventions developed to support improved health behaviours including diet and physical activity. This article explores what young women themselves think and feel about eating and moving during and after pregnancy. Semi-structured interviews with 11 young mothers were conducted within two voluntary organisations. Data were analysed using thematic analysis with the theoretical lens of embodiment, which provided an understanding of how young women's eating and moving habits related to how they felt about their bodies in the world. Four themes situated in different experiences of being and having a body were identified: pregnant body, emotional body, social body and surveilled body. Stress and low mood impacted eating habits as young women responded to complex circumstances and perceived judgement about their lives. Food choices were influenced by financial constraints and shaped by the spaces and places in which young women lived. Whilst young women were busy moving in their day-to-day lives, they rarely had the resources to take part in other physical activity. Holistic approaches that focus on how women feel about their lives and bodies and ask them where they need support are required from professionals. Interventions that address the structural influences on poor diet and inequalities in physical activity participation are necessary to underpin this. Approaches that over-focus on the achievement of individual health behaviours may fail to improve long-term health and risk reinforcing young women's disadvantage.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages ( Copyright © 2021, doi:
Publisher Keywords: gender and health, maternity care, mental health, nutrition, research methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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