The Distributional Situation of Obesity
Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2009
William Underhill had a nice summary of recent research on one of the situational causes of obesity: inequality. Here are some excerpts.
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What makes Americans so fat? Don’t blame the doughnuts. That extra heft could be symptomatic of a malaise prevalent in all the world’s least equal societies. According to “The Spirit Level,” a new book by British academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, a slew of social woes—from drug abuse to obesity and mental illness—can be tied directly to the width of a nation’s income gap.
The evidence for the link is compelling. Obesity is six times more common in America, where the wealth gap is among the highest in the developed world, than in Japan at the opposite end of the inequality scale. And teenage birthrates in Britain are at least five times higher than in the more egalitarian Netherlands.
The explanation lies in a highly evolved reaction to low status, which shows itself in misery, violence or poor self-esteem. Weight, in particular, has long been a marker of socio-economic clout, and there’s an unusually close match between obesity in women and their society’s wealth gap. But it’s not only the poor who suffer in unequal societies; higher incidences of mental illness, for example, affect all classes.
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The entire (brief) article is here. For a few related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Body Image,”“Prejudice Against the Obese and Some of its Situational Sources,” and “Fitting in and Sizing up.”