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Ryerson University
SOC 808
Dr.Michelle Szabo

3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Topics and Learning Objectives Topics Socio-economic factors involved in obesity Competing discourses on obesity in government, fat activism, and critical sociology Aboriginal perspectives on obesity Weight differences in Canada by region and time period Learning Objectives By the end of this module, you should be able to: Explain the terms “obesity” and “overweight” from a medical perspective List some socio-economic contributors to overweight Describe the role of “obesogenic environments” in overweight Enumerate the particular challenges facing Aboriginal peoples when it comes to diet and weight Give examples of how fat bias and discrimination may lead to health problems Reading Reading Critical Perspectives in Food Studies, Chapters 12 and 13 Warm Up As you may know, overweight and obese individuals have become a serious concern for public health officials in the past deca—e enough to be labelled an “epidemic.” https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 1/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Figure 5.1: This wide chair in a hospital waiting room suggests that large bodies are becoming more common and recognized. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Drriad, 2007 The obesity "epidemic" is something that many of us have heard about. But the numbers may still be surprising to you. Use your knowledge to make an educated guess in the questions below. Test Yourself: Obesity in Canada 1. According to the latest statistics (Statistics Canada, 2012a), what percentage of Canadian children, aged 5 to 17, are considered overweight or obese? a. 1 in 20 b. 1 in 10 c. 1 in 3 d. 2 in 3 Verify Answer Uncheck All 2. According to the latest statistics (Statistics Canada, 2012b), what percentage of Canadian adults, aged 18 to 79, are considered overweight or obese? a. 1 in 20 b. 1 in 10 c. 1 in 3 d. 2 in 3 https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 2/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Verify Answer Uncheck All Since this issue has received so much attention of late, in particular because of the health risks associated with being overweight, many people are looking for causes and solutions. When you think of causes, what comes to mind? Jot down a few notes for later. Obesity and Overweight: Introduction What is meant by “obese” and “overweight”? In the last module, we talked about how there are competing discourses in a society at any given time, including discourses about health and diet. Currently, the mainstream discourse about weight is a medical- scientific one. Obesity and being overweight are typically measured using the Body Mass Index or BMI. This is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by the square of their height (in meters). An adult of 18 years or over with a BMI of 30+ is deemed “obese.” An adult with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is deemed “overweight.” These terms are important to health officials because of the apparent health risks involved. According to Statistics Canada (2002b): [Being] overweight [or obese is] associated with an increased risk of numerous health problems, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, many types of cancer (including breast, colorectal and pancreatic) and cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and stroke). However, we should recognize that other discourses about being overweight exist in our society. Self- described “fat activis—s”people who celebrate large figures— and some scholars argue that concerns about the health risks of large body sizes may be overblown. We’ll return to this at the end of the module. For now, the thing to remember is that the medical-scientific view espoused by the government is not the only perspective. Obesity and Overweight: Causes In the Warm Up for this module, you were asked to jot down some ideas about the causes for becoming overweight. Go back to your notes to answer the poll below. Poll: Where do you do the majority of your food shopping? Much of the mainstream discourse (reproduced in government, media, and popular culture) assigns responsibility for being overweight to individuals. According to this discourse, body weight has to do primarily with diet and exercise, which are seen to be individual choices. The subtext of this discourse is that people who have large bodies are at fault because they are lazy. https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 3/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives However, if it were true that individual personality and lifestyle were primarily the cause of being overweight, there would be no noticeable differences between groups of people, nor would there be differences over time. But this is not the case. There are many noticeable differences between socio-economic groups. There has also been a well-publicized increase in being overweight over the past few decades. In the next few pages, we’ll look at these differences in turn. Obesity and Overweight: Time Period As you are no doubt well aware, the number of people who are overweight or obese has increased dramatically in the past few decades (see Figure 5.2). Figure 5.2: An increasing percentage of the Canadian population has become obese (BMI over 30). Source: Adapted from Public Health Agency of Canada. (2011). Obesity in Canada. Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, p. 4. What accounts for this rise in body size over the past few decades? As you read in Chapter 12, Tony Winson, a sociologist at the University of Guelph, suggests that our political economy is an important factor to consider. He talks about the types of foods available in both supermarkets and schools. In this module, we’ll look at his research on supermarkets. His research team investigated 12 Loblaws, Sobey’s, and A & P supermarkets in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge to find out what foods were available and how they were presented. In particular, Winson was interested in the availability of what he calls pseudo-foods. By measuring the placement and shelf space devoted to pseudo-foods in the 12 supermarkets, Winson found a few interesting things. Do you remember what they are? https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 4/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Test Yourself 1. What did Winson’s research show about pseudo-foods? a. An average of 31% of supermarket shelf space was devoted to pseudo-foods b. Pseudo-foods were heavily marketed at the check-out and through numerous special displays c. Entire aisles were devoted to pseudo-foods d. All of the above Verify Answer Uncheck All Pseudo-foods are not only plentiful but heavily marketed in supermarkets. As Winson notes, if we see such foods all over the store and then again at the check out, we are more likely to buy them, especially on impulse. You might think: But we aren’t automatons that do whatever marketing tells us. We don’t have to buy anything. This is a good point. We have agency. On the other hand, we are up against a formidable opponent in food marketers. The food industry spends billions of dollars on psychological research to understand our shopping and buying patterns and on advertising to manipulate our desires and emotions so that we buy more (Nestle, 2002). Further, much of this research attempts to understand the minds of children who do not have the same will power and reasoning skills as adults. You may have heard of the “nag factor,” a marketing term describing the different ways in which children manipulate their parents to make a purchase and that marketers use to their advantage. Like many other marketing strategies, “nag factor” strategies were developed after in-depth research by child psychologists on children (Bakan, 2004). So, while we do have will power, it is reasonable to assume that billions of dollars of psychological research and marketing has some effect on us. Think about your own experiences. Have you ever bought pseudo-food when you weren’t planning on it? Did the placement and/or availability of the pseudo-food play a part in your purchase? Going back to Winson’s research, why would retailers want to market pseudo-foods over healthier foods? Why not just try to sell us more of any foods? Winson’s concept of differential profit is useful here. The idea is that pseudo-foods offer stores a higher profit than less-processed foods, such as produce or milk. This is because of the food industry notion that the more a food is processed, the more it has “value added.” If a store wants to maximize profits, a good way to do this is to sell more pseudo-foods. The result, says Winson, is that we are seeing more and more pseudo-foods around us. He calls this the spatial colonization of our food environments by pseudofoods. For Winson, this heavy marketing of pseudo- foods, which has increased significantly in the past few decades, is partially responsible for the rise in obesity. Obesity and Overweight: Region There are also noticeable patterns in being overweight by region. Take a look at Figure 5.3. What pattern do you notice? Note: King’s County is the smallest and most rural district in P.E.I.; Waterloo Region consists of the cities of https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 5/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, and surrounding rural areas; and the Peel region is made up of the cities of Brampton, Mississauga, and the town of Caledon. Figure 5.3: Percentage of obese adults (30+ BMI) in different regions of Canada. Source: Adapted from the Public Health Agency of Canada. (2011). Obesity in Canada. Ottawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. The general pattern is the larger the city, the lower the obesity rates. But why? One reason relates to the notion of obesogenic environment, an “environment that promotes weight gain and is not conducive to weight loss” (Swinburn et al., 1999). A selection of obesogenic environments are listed below. Neighbourhoods or regions built primarily for cars These are urban areas with few sidewalks, bike paths, and greenspaces, which makes walking and biking unpleasant or dangerous. Or, conversely, they are rural areas with long distances between destinations, making driving a practical necessity. Poor neighbourhoods or regions These may be food deserts, with little access to healthy foods (see Module 3). Residents may have little money or political clout for neighbourhood beautification (again making biking or walking unpleasant). Or if crime rates are high, people may be afraid to do outdoor activities. https://de.ryerson.ca/de_courses/templates/des/?c=C02F9DE3C2F3040751818AACC7F60B74 6/12 3/27/2014 CSOC808, Module5- Topics andLearning Objectives Figure 5.4: An obesogenic environment? The lack of sidewalks, bike lanes, and street lights on this rural route in P.E.I. might make walking and biking inconvenient or dangerous. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Verne Equinox, 2009 Discussion Other factors interact with this population-based pattern to create exceptions. You might have noticed in Table 5.2, for example, that Vancouver has a lower rate of obesity than Toronto, even though it has a smaller population. (In fact, Vancouver has one of the lowest rates of obesity in the country). What other factors might be at play here? What do you think? Share your thoughts on the Class Discussion Board. O
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