‘Am I anorexic?’ Weight, eating and discourses of the body in online adolescent health communication


  • Louise Mullany School of English University of Nottingham
  • Catherine Smith University of Birmingham
  • Kevin Harvey University of Nottingham
  • Svenja Adolphs School of English University of Nottingham




corpus linguistics, discourses of the body, eating disorders, electronic discourse, sociolinguistics


This article explores the communicative choices of adolescents seeking advice from an internet-based health forum run by medical professionals. Techniques from the disciplines of sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics are integrated to examine the strategies used in adolescents’ health questions. We focus on the emergent theme of Weight and Eating, a concern which features prominently in adolescents’ requests to medical practitioners. The majority of advice requests are authored by adolescent girls, with queries peaking at age 12. A combined quantitative and qualitative analysis provides detailed insights into adolescents’ communicative strategies. Examinations of question types, register and a discourse-based analysis draw attention to dominant discourses of the body, including a ‘discourse of slenderness’ and a ‘discourse of normality’, which exercise negative influences on adolescents’ dietary behaviours. The findings are of applied linguistic relevance to health practitioners and educators, as they provide them with access to adolescents’ health queries in their own language.

Author Biographies

  • Louise Mullany, School of English University of Nottingham
    Louise Mullany is associate Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Nottingham. She has published widely in the area of professional communication and her research primarily focuses on health and business settings.
  • Catherine Smith, University of Birmingham
    Catherine Smith is a research Fellow and technical Officer at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) at the university of Birmingham. She was previously a Research Fellow in corpus linguistics at the University of Nottingham.
  • Kevin Harvey, University of Nottingham
    Kevin Harvey is Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at the University of Nottingham. his particular research interest is in the field of health communication from a corpus-linguistic and discourse-based approach.
  • Svenja Adolphs, School of English University of Nottingham
    Svenja Adolphs is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Nottingham. Her research interests are in the areas of health communication, corpus linguistics, pragmatics and discourse analysis.


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How to Cite

Mullany, L., Smith, C., Harvey, K., & Adolphs, S. (2016). ‘Am I anorexic?’ Weight, eating and discourses of the body in online adolescent health communication. Communication and Medicine, 12(2-3), 211–223. https://doi.org/10.1558/cam.16692