Weighty Issues: Fatness and Thinness as Social Problems

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Many people consider their weight to be a personal problem; when, then, does body weight become a social problem? Until recently, the major public concern was whether enough food was consistently available. As food systems began to provide ample and stable amounts of food, questions about food availability were replaced with concerns about ideal weights and appearance. These interests were aggregated into public concerns about defining people as too fat and too thin. Social constructionist perspectives can contribute to the understanding of weight problems because they focus attention on how these problems are created, maintained, and promoted within various social environments. While there is much objectivist research concerning weight problems, few studies address the socially constructed aspects of fatness and thinness. This book however draws from and contributes to social constructionist perspectives. The chapters in this volume offer several perspectives that can be used to understand the way society deals with fatness and thinness. The contributors consider historical foundations, medical models, gendered dimensions, institutional components, and collective perspectives. These different perspectives illustrate the multifaceted nature of obesity and eating disorders, providing examples of how a variety of social groups construct weight as a social problem. Jeffery Sobal is Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University. He is on the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and he has Cornell University Graduate Field Membership in the areas of Nutrition, Development Sociology and Epidemiology. Donna Maurer is John S. Knight Postdoctoral Fellow in the Writing Program, Cornell University. She also serves on the board of directors of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and is an adjunct professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland University College. Drs. Sobal and Maurer are coeditors of a companion volume, Interpreting Weight: The Social Management of Fatness and Thinness, and Eating Agendas: Food and Nutrition as Social Problems