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Reconstructing Obesity

Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Measure of Meanings

Megan B. McCullough
Jessica A. Hardin
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Reconstructing Obesity
    Book Description:

    In the crowded and busy arena of obesity and fat studies, there is a lack of attention to the lived experiences of people, how and why they eat what they do, and how people in cross-cultural settings understand risk, health, and bodies. This volume addresses the lacuna by drawing on ethnographic methods and analytical emic explorations in order to consider the impact of cultural difference, embodiment, and local knowledge on understanding obesity. It is through this reconstruction of how obesity and fatness are studied and understood that a new discussion will be introduced and a new set of analytical explorations about obesity research and the effectiveness of obesity interventions will be established.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-142-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Public Health, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction. Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Measure of Meanings
    (pp. 1-24)
    Megan B. McCullough and Jessica A. Hardin

    “That is child abuse!” one my Anthropology of the Body students declared, ruffled and affronted, after learning about gavage, the forced feeding and fattening of young Muslim girls in certain West African subcultures (Popenoe 2005). When thinking about fat, college students articulate very clear ideas about what constitutes a “healthy” body, and their responses to fatness and obesity, words often used interchangeably, range from baffled, outraged, curious, to liberated as they are asked to unpack their ideas about fat, value, and health. When my classes have analytically examined fat and obesity, individually and collectively, students learned to identify tendrils of...

  6. Part I. Global Health, Naturalizing Measures, and Universalizing Effects

    • CHAPTER 1 Resocializing Body Weight, Obesity, and Health Agency
      (pp. 27-48)
      Anne E. Becker

      In an era of spectacular scientific precision, the operationalization of body weight—as a collection of clinical facts that predict or portend health outcomes—has offered stubborn resistance. Capturing the parameters for obesity, in turn, in nosologic terms for clinical guidance has been both contested and contentious. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, a good deal of ink has been spilled and affect evoked in public and scientific discourse about obesity in the United States. Even outside its increasingly broad sphere of medicalization and medical intervention, weight management has become firmly entrenched as commercial enterprise, moral orientation, social identity, and personal avocation....

    • CHAPTER 2 The Mismeasure of Obesity
      (pp. 49-70)
      Emily Yates-Doerr

      InThe Mismeasure of Man,now written three decades ago, Stephen Jay Gould illustrated the fallacies of reducing the “wondrously complex and multifaceted set of human capabilities” into a standardized measure of intelligence (1996: 24). In this chapter, I draw from Gould’s emphasis on the fallacy of reification, applying his argument to the measurements of obesity rather than intelligence. Whereas Gould critiqued the use of skull size and IQ tests to record intelligence, my concern lies with the presupposition thathealthcan be located in the metrics of body size that have come to dominate the dietary ideals promoted by...

    • CHAPTER 3 “Diabesity” and the Stigmatizing of Lifestyle in Australia
      (pp. 71-86)
      Darlene McNaughton

      We find ourselves in a time where governments, health education campaigns, the medical establishment, and the media frequently remind, expect, and even admonish us to be deeply concerned about our health (Lupton 1995; Petersen and Lupton 1997). We are told that new knowledge is revealing a growing array of potential risks to our well-being, the threat of which can only be alleviated or avoided if we are vigilant and take greater personal responsibility for our health (Brandt and Rozin 2007). As Robert Crawford (1994) has shown in his seminal analysis, in recent decades health has been constructed as a precarious...

  7. Part II. Large Embodiment and Histories of Fat

    • CHAPTER 4 Obesity in Cuba: Memories of the Special Period and Approaches to Weight Loss Today
      (pp. 89-106)
      Hanna Garth

      In this chapter I analyze the role of memories of food scarcity and the psychosocial effects of nationalized food provisioning, which includes food rationing and state-subsidized food sales, on present day efforts to reduce obesity through dieting. My objective is to consider the impact of memories of food scarcity during Cuba’s Special Period, a period of economic hardship that I elaborate further below, on the rising rates of obesity in Cuba as well as current efforts to control body weight. My analytic focus is on the role that memories of earlier crises play in coping with difficult situations in the...

    • CHAPTER 5 Fasting for Health, Fasting for God: Samoan Evangelical Christian Responses to Obesity and Chronic Disease
      (pp. 107-128)
      Jessica A. Hardin

      The motivation to write this paper was sparked during conversations with public health practitioners and Pacific scholars after returning from preliminary fieldwork trips over the course of three years.¹ Whenever I would mention to Pacific scholars working in the United States or public health practitioners working with Pacific Islanders that I was doing research on fasting, the response was generally: “Samoan people fast?” This motivated me to explore why the Samoan practice of fasting seems like such a contradictory idea.

      The first part of this puzzle is that anthropologists often associate Samoans with lavish food presentations as a key dimension...

  8. Part III. Cultures of Practice and Conflicting Interventions

    • CHAPTER 6. Perspectives on Diabetes and Obesity from an Anthropologist in Behavioral Medicine: Lessons Learned from the “Diabetes Care in American Samoa” Project
      (pp. 131-146)
      Rochelle K. Rosen

      From 2006 to 2012 I was a co-investigator on a translational research project that adapted an existing diabetes self-management intervention based in the United States and implemented it in American Samoa. I am an anthropologist trained in behavioral medicine, and during the project I developed a strong appreciation for how anthropological perspectives on human health behavior can contribute to behavioral health research. This chapter articulates some of the tensions I perceive between my two disciplines. Anthropology and social science perspectives could, I argue, contribute more fully to behavioral medicine research generally. Furthermore, I will provide concrete suggestions as to how...

    • CHAPTER 7 Body Image and Weight Concerns among Emirati Women in the United Arab Emirates
      (pp. 147-168)
      Sarah Trainer

      Much has been written in the last half century, both in scholarly and popular literature, about obesity—as a public health concern, as an individual health concern, and as an example of development gone awry. Obesity has also been understood as a source of body image dissatisfaction, as a sign of social status or disadvantage, and as an indicator of a body under stress. Despite its popularity as a topic (or perhaps because of it), many issues relating to obesity remain uninterrogated and underexplored. This volume seeks to explore these underexplored questions, to problematize commonly held assumptions regarding weight and...

    • CHAPTER 8. “Not Neutral Ground”: Exploring School as a Site for Childhood Obesity Intervention and Prevention Programs
      (pp. 169-196)
      Tracey Galloway and Tina Moffat

      School-based programs are widely acknowledged as fundamental tools for monitoring and improving child health (Florencio 2001; Hay 1999; Institute of Medicine 2010). Ensuring good health requires a lifespan approach to intervention, and school-based programs are key components of an overall public health strategy for school-age children. Evidence suggests good health is a prerequisite for learning readiness in young children (Bundy et al. 2006), and the organizational structure of school—classes, teachers, and curriculum—offers opportunity for social and behavioral marketing, in essence the delivery of health-based curriculum to a largely captive audience. Internationally, school-based programs reach students from across the...

  9. Part IV. Fat Etiologies, Stigma, and Gaps of Care in Biomedical Models of Obesity

    • CHAPTER 9. An Ounce of Prevention, a Ton of Controversy: Exploring Tensions in the Fields of Obesity and Eating Disorder Prevention
      (pp. 199-214)
      Lisa R. Rubin and Jessica A. Joseph

      In the United States, the past twenty-five years have been marked by preoccupation both with bodies that are “too fat” and bodies that are “too thin.” This is particularly true for women, who still experience significantly greater pressure to achieve the thin ideal and exhibit higher rates of disordered eating (Smolak and Murnen 2001) and also experience more weight-based discrimination (Puhl and Heuer 2009). As concerns about “overweight” and “obesity”¹ increasingly take the center stage among public health concerns in the United States, and often share the stage at national and international eating disorders conferences, tensions among scientists and practitioners...

    • CHAPTER 10 Fat and Knocked-Up: An Embodied Analysis of Stigma, Visibility, and Invisibility in the Biomedical Management of an Obese Pregnancy
      (pp. 215-234)
      Megan B. McCullough

      I am a fat anthropologist and not an anthropologist who is fat. I state this bluntly, although if you had met me or seen me, you would already have decided that I was fat; were you inclined toward medical diagnostic terminology, you would have said to yourself I was obese. I understand the termfatto mean “anyone who sees themselves as larger, rounder or bigger than other people and who might be medically categorized as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’” (Wilson 2009: 54). For some weight gain is temporary or cyclical, and thus, the body is something one periodically works on....

    • Afterword
      (pp. 235-237)
      Stephen T. McGarvey

      The increase in individual and population levels of body weight and adiposity throughout the world over the last several decades presents challenges to holistic anthropology, public health, psychology, and related population and clinically oriented disciplines. This volume intelligently and insightfully addresses those challenges. The emphasis in this work, which ranges from the context of measurements to public health messaging to actual medical care, is on missing the essential individuality of the persons involved and actively denying, or passively subverting, opportunities for improved well-being and health. Work by Jessica Hardin and Rochelle Rosen on Samoa, Sarah Trainer’s work in the UAE,...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 238-241)
  11. Index
    (pp. 242-245)