Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis

Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis: Implications for Social Work

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis
    Book Description:

    A number of economic, cultural, and contextual factors are driving urban America's obesity crisis, which can create chronic health conditions for those least able to manage them. Considering urban obesity through a social justice lens, this book is the first to help social workers and others develop targeted interventions for effective outcomes.

    The text dissects the problem of urban obesity in populations of color from individual, family, group, community, and policy perspectives. Beginning with a historical survey of urban obesity in communities of color, anti-obesity policies and programs, and the role of social work in addressing this threat, the volume follows with an analysis of the social, ecological, environmental, and spatial aggravators of urban obesity, such as the food industry's advertising strategies, which promote unhealthy choices; the failure of local markets to provide good food options; the lack of safe exercise spaces; and the paucity of heath education. Melvin Delgado reviews recent national obesity statistics; explores the connection between food stamps and obesity; and reveals the financial and social consequences of the epidemic for society as a whole. He concludes with recommendations for effective health promotion programs, such as youth-focused interventions, community gardens, and community-based food initiatives, and a unique consideration of urban obesity in relation to acts of genocide and national defense.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53425-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part 1: Setting the Context

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-24)

      The opening quote captures a multitude of perspectives on the social phenomenon that we call obesity, a much-talked-about condition, judging by the amount of publicity and scholarly attention it has generated in recent decades. Is there a need for an entire book on overweight and obesity—specifically one premised on a social justice paradigm and aimed at the social work profession? I hope that this book will prove the answer to be a resounding yes.

      At the outset it is important to define the terms overweight and obesity and to consider whether there truly is an obesity “epidemic.” A look...

    • 2 A Social Justice Paradigm
      (pp. 25-44)

      The reader may be puzzled by the introduction of a social justice paradigm so prominently in the title of a book about what is considered to be a physical condition related to excessive food intake and a sedentary lifestyle. What does weight have to do with social justice? The above quote by Pomeranz (2008) explains why social justice plays such an important role in this book and why social work must play an active role in dealing with obesity.

      Freeman’s (2007, pp.2221–2222) description of West Oakland, California, a community consisting primarily of low-income people of color, illustrates the significance...

    • 3 The Extent of the National Obesity Crisis
      (pp. 45-59)

      To put a face on the obesity crisis, we will examine how it has evolved and identify which groups in the United States are most at risk. Excessive weight can best be understood from historical, evolutionary, and contextual points of view; thus a social context is critical for developing an in-depth understanding of the issue.

      Every effort will be made to make this discussion both informative from a statistical perspective and also “reader-friendly” in light of the vast amount of research on obesity that has been conducted over the past several years and that will not diminish in the foreseeable...

    • 4 Health, Economic, and Social Consequences of Obesity
      (pp. 60-70)

      Being overweight or obese carries multifaceted consequences, both obvious and hidden, for individuals, families, communities, and society. These conditions are important not only because they influence our physical appearance in a society that worships “thinness” but also because of the effects of excessive weight on our quality of life. Obesity actually goes far beyond being considered a public health condition (Crosnoe, 2007). The costs and consequences of excessive weight have a profound impact on all spheres of daily life.

      Although consequences have usually been framed from a health perspective, other consequences of overweight and obesity exist that have generally been...

    • 5 Lack of Access to Healthy Foods
      (pp. 71-84)

      Treuhaft and Karpyn’s statement sums up poignantly the lack of healthy foods in low-income urban communities of color and the over-representation of fast-food establishments targeting this customer base.

      Johnson (2010, p. 165) captures the challenges of finding a fresh apple in urban communities of color in this country:

      Imagine you are standing on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in a neighborhood composed of over 90% African Americans. You visit all of the fast food restaurants and discover that over 80% of the menu items are fried in lard and are high in sodium. The healthy food items, such as fresh...

    • 6 Limits to Places and Spaces for Physical Exercise
      (pp. 85-92)

      The condition of overweight or obesity results from a complex interaction of individual and environmental factors. G. R. Flores’s (2008) description of a Latino community in Los Angeles and its fight to positively alter the physical environment illustrates the struggles that low-income urban communities of color encounter in an effort to create safe and accessible spaces within their neighborhoods. The physical environment can be a force for either fostering or hindering activities that support health in low-income urban communities of color.

      A social justice perspective provides a lens through which we can better understand the relationship between physical environments and...

    • 7 Food Industry Practices
      (pp. 93-99)

      An in-depth examination of the social, economic, and political forces that operate in the food industry’s advertising and marketing policies reveals how they foster overweight and obesity in the United States, working against a social justice agenda. The power of advertising and marketing in creating consumer demand for products cannot be overestimated, and low-income people of color in urban communities have been particularly targeted in this regard. Marketing and advertising are sometimes confused with each other. Marketing refers to activities that are coordinated to bring buyers and sellers together; advertising is one component of marketing, and takes the form of...

    • 8 Challenges in Measuring Overweight and Obesity
      (pp. 100-112)

      The average person could not imagine how arduous it is to accurately measure overweight and obesity; in fact, the terms are often used interchangeably, even though they technically refer to two very different conditions. We will now turn to identifying the challenges and rewards associated with how we measure the problem of excessive weight, and the difficulties in arriving at a consensus. Failure to reach a consensus, however, will lead to fragmented and ultimately unsuccessful programs to combat the issue.

      If we are calibrating our prescription devices based on incorrect measurements, we have little hope of solving the obesity epidemic....

  5. Part 2: Community-Led Health Promotion Approaches

    • 9 Health Promotion
      (pp. 115-132)

      Corburn’s quote sums up the social justice health promotion model that, I believe, the social work profession must embrace in addressing overweight and obesity in undervalued or marginalized communities.

      This chapter offers a more detailed definition of health promotion and also identifies a set of values and principles, grounds health promotion interventions in a socioecological perspective, and explores the challenges in using evidence- and evaluation-based practice research. Each of these perspectives wields prodigious influence in how health promotion is conceived, implemented, and eventually evaluated for the overweight and obesity field.

      As already noted, health can and should be grounded in...

    • 10 Youth-Focused Interventions
      (pp. 133-147)

      This chapter provides a glimpse into how youth view overweight and obesity within their group and community, how social justice plays an influential role in shaping youth perspectives on the nature of this crisis, and what needs to be done to achieve positive change. Youth, because of their culture, age, ethnic and racial heritage, and social class, have a unique cultural perspective, which adults (even those from the same cultural background) do not share (Nault, Fitzpatrick, and Howard, 2010).

      Interventions targeting youth must be contextualized to take into account the unique position they occupy in their communities and society (Hodge,...

    • 11 Community Garden Interventions
      (pp. 148-166)

      The topic of community gardening has gained currency in the United States over the past 35 to 40 years and particularly in the past decade (Lawson, 2005; Marcias, 2008; Miner, 2010). Community gardens originally sprang up in this country as a response to social and economic crises dating back to the late nineteenth century (Pudup, 2008). Feenstra (1997) argued passionately for the development of local food systems and sustainable communities, and recognized the need for communities not only to consume healthy foods but also to play an active role in their development.

      Community gardens represent immense potential for any comprehensive...

    • 12 Community-Based Food Initiatives
      (pp. 167-183)

      The economic crisis that confronts this nation in 2012 can be used as an excuse to avoid doing anything of substance about overweight and obesity. However, as any good social worker would know, a crisis is an excellent time to do things that are bold.

      Confronting the problem of excessive weight in general, and its increased prevalence in certain communities in particular, requires a bold vision and the active involvement of communities (Huberty et al., 2010), which can play an influential role in devising the needed interventions. The implementation of participatory democratic principles, which has long been typical of social...

    • 13 Implications for Social Work Practice and Research
      (pp. 184-188)

      This final chapter highlights the interconnectedness of values, theory, and field examples, the implications for social work practice, and the appropriateness of employing a social justice lens. Pomeranz’s (2008) poignant charge to society to pass obesity- and weight-bias laws challenges the social work profession to be a part of this movement.

      The social work profession occupies a unique position from which to address the problem of overweight and obesity—from individual, family, group, organizational, community, and policy perspectives. Social justice themes serve as a foundation of social work practice in marginalized urban communities of color. The case studies and examples...

  6. Epilogue
    (pp. 189-194)

    It is appropriate to begin this epilogue with a quote that casts cities in a positive light, since all too often statements about urban areas tend to focus on their ills. The epilogue offers me a final opportunity to highlight key themes and issues that I believe will shape the debate and corresponding strategies to address overweight and obesity from this decade into the next.

    The way we define the social phenomenon of obesity is obviously important; it has serious social, economic, and political ramifications. In other words, this is much more serious than an academic exercise. I am inclined...

  7. References
    (pp. 195-254)
  8. Index
    (pp. 255-266)