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Killer Fat

Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic”

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Killer Fat
    Book Description:

    In the past decade, obesity has emerged as a major public health concern in the United States and abroad. At the federal, state, and local level, policy makers have begun drafting a range of policies to fight a war against fat, including body-mass index (BMI) report cards, "snack taxes," and laws to control how fast food companies market to children. As an epidemic, obesity threatens to weaken the health, economy, and might of the most powerful nation in the world.

    InKiller Fat, Natalie Boero examines how and why obesity emerged as a major public health concern and national obsession in recent years. Using primary sources and in-depth interviews, Boero enters the world of bariatric surgeries, Weight Watchers, and Overeaters Anonymous to show how common expectations of what bodies are supposed to look like help to determine what sorts of interventions and policies are considered urgent in containing this new kind of disease.

    Boero argues that obesity, like the traditional epidemics of biological contagion and mass death, now incites panic, a doomsday scenario that must be confronted in a struggle for social stability. The "war" on obesity, she concludes, is a form of social control.Killer Fatultimately offers an alternate framing of the nation's obesity problem based on the insights of the "Health at Every Size" movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5372-6
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Weighty Matters
    (pp. 1-15)

    In a 2005 speech at the University of Texas, then U.S. surgeon general Richard H. Carmona stated, “Obesity is the terror within . . . [and] it is eroding our society.” In the same speech, Carmona added that the “childhood obesity epidemic” in the United States will have dire consequences for the future workforce and military (University of Texas Health Science Center 2005). Carmona’s statement is meant to scare people into taking obesity seriously, not simply as a social problem, but as a crisis and a threat to national security on par with terrorism.

    Contrast the dire warnings of Carmona...

  5. 1 Obesity as a “Leading Health Indicator”: Public Health, Moral Entrepreneurs, and a Confluence of Interests
    (pp. 16-39)

    In November of 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) publishedHealthy People 2010, the third report in theHealthy Peopleseries started in 1979.Healthy People 2010is not simply a report on public health priorities. It is, according to then U.S. surgeon general Dr. David Satcher, “an encyclopedic compilation of health improvement opportunities” (DHHS 2002, v). Including 467 objectives in twenty-eight priority areas, the report is more comprehensive than either of its predecessors. In spite of its breadth, what most setsHealthy People 2010apart from the two previous reports is its identification of the...

  6. 2 All the News That’s Fat to Print: The American Obesity Epidemic and the Media
    (pp. 40-58)

    Almost daily, newspaper headlines explore new facets of the obesity epidemic. New diet books and programs are promoted on the morning news and dramatic stories of surgical weight loss are staples of the talk-show scene. Popular magazines and websites span topics from entertainment to parenting feature stories about obesity, childhood obesity, and weight loss. The health-care reform debate is reduced to sound bites about obesity’s being key to cost-cutting measures and to the funding of various reforms. More debate over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Dr. Regina Benjamin for surgeon general centered around her girth than her qualifications for the...

  7. 3 Normative Pathology and Unique Disease: Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, and Behavioral Treatments for the Obesity Epidemic
    (pp. 59-93)

    The following vignettes come from my fieldwork in two of the best-known and most popular behavioral programs for weight loss, Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous:

    Karen, today’s leader, is tickled to show us her nametag because it has the autograph of Sarah, Duchess of York, on it.¹ She states giddily that she had “tea with the duchess” yesterday afternoon. She volunteered to check people in at an open meeting at a big grand ballroom downtown. She said the meeting was truly inspirational, that the duchess really got to the heart of her weight problem and was really open and honest....

  8. 4 Bypassing Blame: Bariatric Surgery, Normative Femininity, and the Case of Biomedical Failure
    (pp. 94-123)

    As with the construction of the obesity epidemic and the experience of people in traditional weight-loss programs, notions of normalcy and techniques of normalization are central to the popularity of weight-loss surgery and the experiences of those who have sought out surgical weight loss. Yet the desire of patients to achieve a sense of beingnormalis often curtailed by the physical realities of the post-surgical body as well as normative expectations of gender and sexuality and a more overarching location of the problem of weight within the individual.

    To be sure, weight-loss surgery is but one intervention into the...

  9. Conclusion: Health at Every Size or Thin at Any Price?
    (pp. 124-136)

    In the years since this research was first conducted, concern over obesity as a social problem has only intensified. The continued search for a miracle weight-loss drug and the expansion of weight-loss surgery eligibility to children and people at lower and lower BMIs has been facilitated by debates about the rising cost of health care, which put obesity front and center. The great recession has brought a new focus on cost cutting, and more and more companies are adopting policies that either offer incentives for weight loss or penalize the overweight and obese. Michelle Obama has chosen childhood obesity as...

    (pp. 137-144)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 145-160)
    (pp. 161-170)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 171-176)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)