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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Class, Race, Gender and Power Analysis of "Obesity" in the US


Does obesity measure feminine poverty in the US?
Here is a study shared by the Praxis Project showing poor Black women, rich Black and Latino men as the most obese. The least obese are rich white women and poor Black men.

Is "obesity" a measure in the  US of feminine poverty? How do we deconstruct this vector alleged to be health vector for class, race, gender and power oppression?

See discussion further down which goes to the identification of environmental toxins not our food itself as the cause of obesity.
W ithin the U.S., the relationship between obesity and income is more complicated, according to a new Pew Research Survey.

Pew looked at obesity rates by race along three earnings groups—130% of the poverty level; 130%-349% of poverty level; more than 350% of poverty level (poverty calculations here). Here are the results...
Poorer women are the most likely to be obese among all ethnicities.  But there are a few counter-intuitive surprises here. The richest men were, overall, more likely to be obese than the poorest groups. The groups with the lowest rates of obesity were rich white women and poor black men. Obesity rises with income for black and Hispanic men, but it falls with income for black and Hispanic women. The relationship is clearly more complicated than "a disease for poor people in a rich country."

via Jahi Chappell--
Julie Guthman has been writing about the class and power issues in obesity for a good while.

Glenn Davis Stone referenced her work a bit ago:

"But here’s the problem: calorie consumption hasn’t actually been going up since 1980. In The Obesity Epidemic: Science Morality and Ideology, Gard & Wright’s careful review of research finds no clear evidence of calorie consumption rising in industrialized countries.  Exercise hasn’t been dropping either.  However intuitive it seems, the energy balance model whiffs as a explanation of the rising BMI...

At the end of the day, obesity really is rising, especially in the US.  And at the end of the day, there is no doubt that our agricultural system is subsidizing the production of the wrong kind of calories.  But those cheap calories being a major cause of obesity trends is just a hypothesis, and plausible as it seems, it’s not well supported.
The role of environmental obesogens is not totally clear either, but now there is a wave of research making the case stronger and stronger.  Industrial agriculture is hardly the only producer of environmental obesogens, but it is a (and perhaps the) leading contributor.  We thought industrial agriculture was contributing to obesity, and now it seems it was — just not in the way we thought."
That said, there are critiques that go further. But sticking with these critiques, the biggest thing they skewer is a pure (or even mostly) personal-choice model of obesity, which many have convincingly argued is at best a form of blaming-the-victim. But: an obesogen (and environmental determinants of health)-based perspective of obesity also  calls out for food sovereignty. Speaking only for myself, the problem is that any concern about obesity so very easily lapses into consumption choiced-based explanations, and even environmental determinants of health-based approaches can end up in a paternalistic "they can't help themselves" place rather than a "we're all trapped in this bad system that has multiple negative effects on people", where it's not any more clear that obesity is something to be treated unproblematically than, say, poverty. That is: playing in the delicate balance of acknowledging agency, being an ally rather than a paterfamilias, and looking at the complexity of factors rather than focusing on one (e.g., caloric intake).
And really, the founding scholarship of obesity seems to be so very badhttp://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2009/07/beyond_bmi.html
(excuse the fact that the latter is written by William "I didn't realize racist researchers were racist" Saletan)

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