Navigation Links
UH sociologist has different perspective on obesity 'epidemic'
Date:3/16/2009

Headlines tell us the nation is getting fatter, and that obesity has become an epidemic. But there is more to the story, according to one University of Houston sociologist.

While she acknowledges that there has been a shift in body weight over the years, assistant sociology professor Samantha Kwan looks at obesity from a different perspective.

The term obesity was constructed by the medical community, Kwan says. And the use of the Body Mass Index, which measures obesity, as the main factor to define obesity, has resulted in the media greatly overstating the rise of the condition.

"This epidemic has been constructed to the benefit of the medical industry that has in part medicalized the treatment of obesity over the years," Kwan says. "While there may be a rise in 'obesity,' the BMI is not always accurate. Some scholars describe this epidemic more as a moral panic. While there may be some truths to rising rates, they have been overstated."

Kwan, who has been studying gender and body image since 2001, examines how cultural beauty messages about fat interact with other cultural messages about fat, such as health discourses. This is summarized in her article "Framing the Fat Body: Contested Meanings between Government, Activists and Industry," published in February's Sociological Inquiry.

"I am trying to get students and audiences to understand that there are competing cultural meanings about the fat body," Kwan says. "Fat does not, in itself, signify unhealthy and unattractive. These are cultural constructions. We as a society say what it means to be fat, and right now cultural discourses say it's ugly and unhealthy to be fat. It's also assumed that the body is a reflection of the psyche, including one's moral fiber."

Kwan has found that women's self-esteem is more closely tied to weight than men's.

"Women care about their weight and appearance, and I don't want to say that they are being co-opted by cultural messages," Kwan says. "They are not necessarily cultural dupes with false consciousness. They want to lose weight, look good/thin/beautiful, and to conform to body messages because there are rewards to be gained and sanctions to be avoided when one is, or passes, as thin."

Kwan covers this topic more closely in her article "Beauty Work: Individual and Institutional Rewards, the Reproduction of Gender and Questions of Agency," published in February's Sociology Compass. Along with co-author Mary Nell Trautner, of the University at Buffalo, SUNY, Kwan addresses how physical attractiveness is associated with a number of positive outcomes, including employment benefits such as hiring, wages and promotion, and is correlated with social and personal rewards such as work satisfaction, positive perceptions of others and higher self-esteem.

"Feeling like they're unattractive is a big problem women struggle with, and a lot of this has to do with beauty ideals," Kwan says. "Yes, there is a culture out there that says women are supposed to look a certain way. Research shows that promotions and wages are based partly on the way women look, including their weight. Women are preoccupied with losing weight; yet conforming to norms can bring benefits beyond being healthier. You can avoid a lot of the stigma, and we know women are stigmatized for being 'overweight.' "

Again, while Kwan states that she believes the obesity epidemic is overstated and that we need to understand how the fat body and this "epidemic" are socially constructed, she attributes many factors to the rise in weight, including the availability of quick, inexpensive foods and lack of affordable ways to exercise.

"There's a lot of confusion regarding nutrition information, and consumers often get conflicting messages about diet and activity," she says. "There is some evidence that the food industry sometimes uses the same strategies as the tobacco industry to mislead consumers."

Kwan has an article discussing this topic more closely titled "Individual versus Corporate Responsibility: Market Choice, the Food Industry and the Pervasiveness of Moral Models of Fatness," to be published later this year. She also has received a University of Houston Women's Studies Faculty Summer Fellowship to complete a book on contested cultural meanings about body, health and weight.


'/>"/>

Contact: Kelli Ferrell
kaferrell@uh.edu
713-743-5891
University of Houston
Source:Eurekalert

Related medicine news :

1. Sociologist says this months family murder-suicides only the tip of the iceberg
2. Studies evaluate the anatomy and stability of ACL reconstruction with different techniques
3. Thrill-Seekers Brains May Be Wired Differently
4. Brains of Bulimia Patients Wired Differently
5. Genes Seem to Affect Tissues Differently
6. Men, women give to charity differently, says new research from Texas A&M faculty
7. Narrow-band imaging comparable to white light colonoscopy in differentiating colorectal polyps
8. Most Newer Antipsychotics No Better Than Older Ones, Just Different
9. Memory Formation Different in Those With Stress-Related Psychiatric Disorders
10. Lung Cancer Genetics Different in Black Patients: Study
11. The Deaf Bilingual Coalition responds to HEAR Indiana and "Doing Deaf Differently"
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:5/23/2017)... ... 2017 , ... Axiad IDS , a leading provider of trusted identities ... the company a “Top 25 Cybersecurity Companies 2017.” Axiad IDS received this ... and proactively address potential cybersecurity threats before they happen. The annual list ...
(Date:5/23/2017)... ... May 23, 2017 , ... ... and a 2017 Best in KLAS category winner, has named Daniel P. Bullington ... extend and enhance its technology platform and product offerings,” says Justin Neece, president. ...
(Date:5/23/2017)... ... May 23, 2017 , ... Drs. ... on peri-implantitis in Las Vegas, NV, and the importance of treating ... disease consultation and leading care for peri-implantitis, with or without a referral. As ...
(Date:5/23/2017)... Diego, CA (PRWEB) , ... May 23, 2017 , ... ... bleeding gums and chronic bad breath, can now receive laser gum disease treatments from ... R. Douglas Campbell and David Landau are raising awareness of the importance of receiving ...
(Date:5/22/2017)... ... May 22, 2017 , ... Patients who avoid necessary dental and endodontic ... in Mt. Kisco, NY from Advanced Endodontics of Westchester. This highly-trained team of endodontists ... One or more sedation methods may be recommended based on the severity of the ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:5/8/2017)... -- MACRA replaces the outdated sustainable growth rate ... Black Book Research crowdsource-surveyed 8,845 physician practices from February ... for MIPS Compliance Technology is Booming ... or more clinicians seek to buy Merit-Based Incentive Payment ... of the changes, the hunt is on for the ...
(Date:5/4/2017)... 2017  Fortuna Fix Inc. (" Fortuna "), a ... to eliminate the need for embryonic and fetal stem cells ... diseases. Fortuna announced today the launch ... Fehlings , MD, PhD; Father Kevin FitzGerald , S.J., ... Professor James Giordano , PhD. "We are ...
(Date:5/4/2017)...  A new tight-tolerance microextrusion medical tubing product ... is being launched by Natvar, a Tekni-Plex company. ... recent years to service a wide variety of ... expensive materials such as glass and fluoropolymers have ... their ability to consistently hold tolerances. This is ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: