Social Theory & Health

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 448–464 | Cite as

Communicative validity of health-related promotion of physical activity: A critical analysis of national health strategies

Original Article


Presently, the promotion of physical activity (PA) is a core objective of global health governance. The question “How valid are communications concerning the health-related promotion of PA?” is thus assessed here. Against the background of Habermas’ critical theory (The Theory of Communicative Action. Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), the article examines health strategies for the promotion of PA by checking for violations of validity and pathologies therein. Through qualitative content analysis (Mayring in Qualitative Content Analysis: Principles and Techniques. Weinheim: Beltz, 2003), twenty documents concerning PA promotion issued by the ministries of health of the USA, Germany, Sweden, and Italy were considered. The following issues were disclosed: (1) comprehensibility: definitions of key terms are rare and recommendations on PA are somewhat ambiguous and contradictory. (2) Sincerity: there is a discrepancy between the utopic goal of the health promotion and the narrow preventive aims of the documents. (3) Legitimacy: some argumentations blame the population for being inactive, enhance the power of medical staff, and diminish that of other experts in this context. (4) Truth: occasionally, scientific knowledge is used in misleading ways, lack of evidence is disregarded, and alternative solutions are encroached on. Ultimately, the underlying mechanisms of these violations of validity and pathologies, their consequences, and the opportunities to overcome them are discussed using Habermas’ critical theory.


physical activity health strategy critical theory validity claims 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Sport und SportwissenschaftTechnische Universität DortmundDortmundGermany

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