Stream of People

Are Social Factors Driving the Growth in Obesity?

Environmental Obesity DriversWhile many researchers are having scholarly debates about their competing models for obesity, they focus primarily upon how food is doing it to us. Is it the excessive supply of hyper-palatable, ultra-processed food? Or is it all about carbs and insulin? But nowhere in these lovely models is there any focus on factors that go beyond the substance of the food. This is likely a mistake. Because, as a new collection of articles points out, social factors can promote obesity. In fact, food comes to us in a social context that is essential for nourishing us.

Without understanding the social influences on obesity (along with other factors that drive it) we will never understand the dynamics of this complex, chronic disease. That will make it tough to prevent ever more obesity.

Social Determinants of Obesity

As measured by Google Trends, interest in social determinants of health grew explosively during the pandemic. So it should be no surprise that scholars are working on a framework for understanding the social factors that drive obesity and the disparities that some communities experience with it.

William Cockerham offers an excellent exploration of approaches for researching these dynamics. A snapshot of social and economic variables can be informative, but not sufficient for a full understanding. That’s because, he says, social determinants of obesity often begin in childhood. So attention to life course theory and cumulative advantage, disadvantage, and inequality is essential. An understanding of cultural capital can be helpful, as well.

Cockerham sums it up nicely, writing:

“The social determinants of obesity are not the entire story of excessive weight gain but are key variables in the process, sometimes acting independently of biological causes and sometimes acting together to cause obesity.”

Click here for Cockerham’s overview and here for the full index to the supplement. In particular, we suggest you consider this analysis of the influence of financial stress on obesity.

Stream of People, painting by Pellizza da Volpedo / WikiArt

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June 21, 2022

One Response to “Are Social Factors Driving the Growth in Obesity?”

  1. June 21, 2022 at 6:42 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Ted – thank you for this and very important perspective.

    You may find this recent treatise on the social and commercial determinants of health of interest:

    Alex Liber is definitely one of the brighter bulbs in the chandelier and even when I don’t agree with him, I always learn plenty!