Beyond calories and consumption, new book critiques obesity orthodoxies
Countering the so-called obesity crisis with local, organic, and seasonal food is a nice idea but one that is not likely to work, writes Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at UC Santa Cruz.
Guthman challenges many widely held assumptions about the obesity epidemic in her new book, Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism (University of California Press, 2011). "I have nothing against good food - I eat it myself," says Guthman, a self-confessed "foodie" whose father could be called a health-food nut in the 1950s and '60s, "but the approach is based on assumptions about obesitys causes and consequences that dont hold up to scrutiny."
While she acknowledges that Americans have gotten bigger over the past several decades Guthman is not convinced that obesity is the problem it's made out to be. "The way statistics are constructed and presented tend to overstate the problem," she says. For example, the body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight, "doesn't take into account people with big bones or lots of muscle."
And besides it's not necessarily the case that being bigger is unhealthy, she says, referencing studies that show people in the normal range of BMI do not live longer than those who are overweight or even slightly obese. "In general, we need to be more concerned with pathology and less with size."
The widely accepted direct cause of obesity is a disrupted energy balance too many calories taken in, not enough energy expended through exercise to burn them off. But it's more complicated than that, according to Guthman's analysis.
First, socioeconomic status is strongly correlated to weight, Guthman writes. Many assume that the reason poor people are bigger is that they can only afford to buy cheap, fattening food. "But theres more to the story," she says. "Studies have shown that fat people are subject to discrimination in education, job placement, wages, and health care. Thinness doesnt guarantee high status, but obesity pretty much guarantees low status. So maybe low economic status is as much a consequence of obesity as a cause."
Then, there are environmental factors. Guthman points to studies that suggest that toxins in our air, water and food contribute to the body storing fat. "Emerging research is showing environmental toxins may be playing a big role in obesity, in ways that have little to do with peoples daily habits. Many of these toxins are endocrine disrupting chemicals that can affect development before birth, for example by directing stem cells with no particular destination to become fat cells," she says.
Guthman draws on both political-economic and cultural analysis to find out what's making us fat and whether it matters. She looks at the current culture of "healthism," the industrial food system, socioeconomic factors, and capitalism itself. Basically, she argues, we have a political economy of bulimia. Were supposed to keep the economy afloat by consuming and not interfering with the business of the business, but were also supposed to exercise discipline and self-restraint in ways that are equally kind to capitalism.
Guthman concludes that fixing the food system must go far beyond the question of what to eat and engage with policy. Not only food and farming policy, but immigration policy, trade policy, tax policy and environmental regulation. "All have had a role in making cheap, nutritionally vacuous food and making people dependent on it," she says. "Food needs to be regulated at the point of production, not consumption."
Guthman's overall point is that were so sure about the causes and implications of obesity that were not looking in other places. "When we test our assumptions we get a much more complicated picture."
Provided by University of California - Santa Cruz
- Can soda tax curb obesity? Jun 28, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Professor links temperature, obesity Aug 11, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- New study highlights perils of snack-filled diet Jun 17, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Study: No magic bullet to improve diet, stem obesity epidemic Jul 14, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Diet soda doesn't make you fat -- it's the extra food Jul 04, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras
Apr 15, 2011 I'd like to open a discussion thread for version 2 of the draft of my book ''Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras'', available online at http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/0810.1019 , and for the...
- More from Physics Forums - Independent Research
More news stories
Calorie information in fast food restaurants used by 40 percent of 9-18 year olds when making food choices
A new study published online today (Thursday) in the Journal of Public Health has found that of young people who visited fast food or chain restaurants in the U.S. in 2010, girls and youth who were obese were more likely ...
Health 8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(HealthDay)—Implementation of systematic monitoring for medication adherence will allow for identification of barriers to adherence and tailoring of interventions, according to a viewpoint piece published ...
Health 10 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(AP)—The Obama administration says more doctors and hospitals are embracing technology as adoption of computerized medical records reaches a "tipping point" in America.
Health 11 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Johns Hopkins researchers report that hospitals may be reaping enormous income for patients whose hospital stays are complicated by preventable bloodstream infections contracted in their intensive care units.
Health 12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
A University of Illinois researcher says that the cornerstone of our efforts to alleviate food insecurity should be to encourage more people to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) "because ...
Health 12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Swiss scientists reveal the mechanism responsible for aging hidden deep within mitochondria—and dramatically slow it down in worms by administering antibiotics to the young.
15 hours ago | 4.9 / 5 (7) | 0 |
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London have led the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.
15 hours ago | 4.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Existing research shows that bicyclists who wear helmets have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, but researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that simply having bicycle helmet laws in place showed a 20 percent ...
4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion—the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 2 |
(HealthDay)—Migraines and depression can each cause a great deal of suffering, but new research indicates the combination of the two may be linked to something else entirely—a smaller brain.
11 hours ago | 4 / 5 (2) | 0 |
A new approach for immunizing against influenza elicited a more potent immune response and broader protection than the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines when tested in mice and ferrets. The vaccine ...
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |