Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

News and events

Annual Sociology Lecture

2-3pm U005 Brockington Building

Sugar Rush: Giving up sugar and the inequalities of abstinence - Dr Karen Throsby (University of Leeds)

Sugar is increasingly supplanting fat as public enemy number one in public health campaigns, and the rush to hold sugar responsible for a wide range of expensive non-communicable diseases has provided fertile ground not only for public health campaigns and policy interventions, but also for the proliferation of popular texts and services advocating sugar abstention. Drawing on a range of sources including media reports, policy documents, popular science texts, diet and lifestyle books and published personal accounts, this paper explores three modes of popular sugar abstention: evangelical, experimental and charitable. I argue that the demonisation of sugar not only makes its voluntary repudiation legible but also status-bearing, while simultaneously reproducing class boundaries in ways that render invisible the vast inequalities in access to food, health care and safe, healthful environments that characterise the lives of those who are excluded from the self-entrepreneurial possibilities of sugar abstinence.


Dr Karen Throsby is an Associate Professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, where she is also director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS). Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, technology, health and the body, and she has explored these issues across a number of sites including the new reproductive technologies, the surgical management of obesity, endurance sport and most recently, sugar. She is the author of When IVF Fails: Feminism, Infertility and the Negotiation of Normality (Palgrave 2004) and Immersion: Marathon Swimming, Embodiment and Identity (MUP 2016). Her current project – Sugar Rush: Science, Obesity and the Social Life of Sugar – is funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.