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

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

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