Nav: Home

Obesity is in the eye of the beholder

May 18, 2017

ITHACA, N.Y. - Doctors have a specific definition of what it means to be overweight or obese, but in the social world, gender, race and generation matter a lot for whether people are judged as "thin enough" or "too fat," according to a new Cornell University study.

"It looks like obesity is in the eye of the beholder," said co-author Vida Maralani, associate professor of sociology at Cornell. "People are judged differently depending on who they are. 'Too fat' in the medical world is objective. You can measure it. But in the social world, it's not. It's subjective."

The study appeared April 19 in Sociological Science. Maralani's co-author is Douglas McKee, senior lecturer in Cornell's Department of Economics.

Many studies have linked obesity with poor socio-economic outcomes like lower wages, family income, marriage rates and spousal earnings. But this study is different, because it looks at similar measures both over time and across gender and race.

"We find quite consistent patterns for white Americans across outcomes and over time. For white men, there was a penalty both for being too thin and for being too fat. For white women, thinner was nearly always better," Maralani said. "For African-Americans, the link between body mass and these outcomes dissipates . . . people seem to have become more accepting of larger bodies. But that's not true for whites."

One of the more notable findings of the study was just how much society expects white women to be thin. The higher a white woman's BMI, the lower her wages. Conversely, white women with the lowest body mass had the highest wages.

The patterns for white men are consistent with a body norm too - one that's not too thin and not too fat. "I think our focus on the medical definition of obesity has led us to lose track of the fact that, in the social world, we have quite subjective and fluid definitions of what it means to be fat or thin for different groups."
-end-
Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

Cornell University

Related Obesity Articles:

Obesity is in the eye of the beholder
Doctors have a specific definition of what it means to be overweight or obese, but in the social world, gender, race and generation matter a lot for whether people are judged as 'thin enough' or 'too fat.'
Type 2 diabetes and obesity -- what do we really know?
Social and economic factors have led to a dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes and obesity around the world.
Three in 4 don't know obesity causes cancer
Three out of four (75 percent) people in the UK are unaware of the link between obesity and cancer, according to a new Cancer Research UK report published today.
Obesity on the rise in Indonesia
Obesity is on the rise in Indonesia, one of the largest studies of the double burden of malnutrition in children has revealed.
Obesity rates are not declining in US youth
A clear and significant increase in obesity continued from 1999 through 2014, according to an analysis of data on United States children and adolescents age 2 to 19 years.
How does the environment affect obesity?
Researchers will be examining how agricultural and food processing practices may affect brown fat activity directly or indirectly.
Obesity Day to highlight growing obesity epidemic in Europe
The growing obesity epidemic, which is predicted to affect more than half of all European citizens by 2030, will be the focus of European Obesity Day to be held on May 21.
Understanding obesity from the inside out
Researchers developed a new laboratory method that allowed them to identify GABA as a key player in the complex brain processes that control appetite and metabolism.
Epigenetic switch for obesity
Obesity can sometimes be shut down.
Immunological Aspects of Obesity
This FASEB Conference focuses on the interactions between obesity and immune cells, focusing in particular on how inflammation in various organs influences obesity and obesity-related complications.

Related Obesity Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".