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Is Obesity an epidemic?

What does it mean to cast obesity as a disease?

Tina Moffat argues in a recent Medical Anthropology Quarterly article that some critical anthropologists and sociologists see the obesity “epidemic” as entirely “socially-constructed.”

By talking about obesity as an epidemic, Moffat points out that the implication is that obesity is a disease. The article interrogates this frame. On the one hand, such a frame may mean that health insurers in America can cover treatment and such may allow more research and policy money be made available in a society where medical research is robustly funded. But on the other hand, this conceptualization may focus solutions on the individual—rather than structural considerations like poverty and insufficient access to healthy food choices or ignoring socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and cultural factors. Rather than looking at obesity as an epidemic, childhood obesity would need to be examined “as part of larger societal and global forces that require multifaceted solutions that are thoughtful and directed at changes in social and economic policy, the environment, and our cultural milieu.”

The author concludes by exhorting a middle path:

One approach is to treat childhood obesity as a social and environmental problem that is in part fueled by a “toxic food environment,” as mentioned above. Or perhaps we should link it metaphorically to consumption, not just of food, but of material goods, related to concerns about global warming and environmental destruction.

What are the most effective rubrics? How can the medical community, public health researchers, and anthropologists all dialogue about the best ways to work together to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity?

Juliana Bennington Internship

I am now wrapping up my internships.  It has been a great experience and I have learned not only about the organizations but also about myself.  It feels as if time has flown by but then I recall that this was a short internship, a mere 5 weeks.  I have begun closing up my projects at the International Center for Research on Women(ICRW) and readying my American Anthropological Association (AAA) paraphernalia.  With just over a week left, I feel that I have made tangible contributions to both organizations.

During my tenure at the AAA I have worked on various projects in addition to maintaining the social media sites.  I have had the opportunity to look at various ethics related documents and offer my opinions to the Executive Board as well as the Task Force for the Compressive Ethics Review.  I have learned much about the internal functioning of the AAA as well as the various services it offers to its membership.  This insight will no doubt be helpful in my future as I pursue Anthropology as a career path.

At the ICRW I have had the fortune of working on two very interesting projects.  The first was writing a journal article about the methods used in the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES).  This article is going to be submitted to peer review journals and will allow the organization to make known the great work it is doing.  This survey, which was carried out in five countries, looks at men’s attitudes and practices on issues relating to gender equality.  This article, as well as subsequent pieces which will highlight the data collected, will allow for a better understanding of how men view and interact with the idea of gender equality.  I look forward to continuing to work on this article after I return to college and will hopefully see it published within the year.  The second project on which I worked was a review of the services, legal environment and prevention initiatives around the issue of violence against women in four Melanesian countries (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) as well as Timor-Leste.  This project, which is a follow-up to a 2008 publication by AusAID entitled Violence against Women in Melanesia and East Timor: A Review of International Lesson, evaluates the changes that have occurred in the past few years.  My primary responsibility was to conduct a desk review looking at all of the new literature which has been published since the original document in 2008.  Through this experience, I was able to understand the current status of violence against women programming in each country as well as to get a sense of the regional response to this problem.  I was also able to participate in key informant interviews with people on the ground in these countries who are attempting to tackle the epidemic of violence against women.  This was a great opportunity to bring the literature to life and see how people speak about and interact with this issue.  My desk review will be integrated into a report which will be published and used to inform a dialog with stakeholders in the region.  My time at the ICRW was a very rewarding experience in which I was able to learn much and truly be integrated into the work being done by the organization.

I have gained much from this internship experience.  In addition to the knowledge I have acquired about violence against women and the functioning of the AAA, I have also been able to clarify my future, post-college, plans.  I have decided to pursue a PhD in Anthropology focusing on the issue of changing cultural expectations for young people and the structural violence which shapes their realities.  My work at the ICRW has made me aware of the role violence plays in people’s lives and I plan on continuing to look at this issue throughout my academic work.  I am excited to see what the future will bring and to continue to work in the field of anthropology.

In closing, I would like to thank my supervisors at the ICRW, Brian Heilman and Manuel Contreras, as well as my supervisor at the AAA, Damon Dozier.  I would like to thank both institutions for hosting me as well as my professors and family for supporting me.  I look forward to continuing to be part of the AAA as a student and eventually as a professional.

Inside The President’s Studio – Sarah Green

 (click to listen)

Hosted by AAA President Virginia R. Dominguez, “Inside the President’s Studio” features interviews with anthropologists about their ideas, research and passions. It is part of an ongoing effort to foster public, visible and active engagement with anthropologists. Become a part of the conversation by reading and listening to the interviews, adding your comments to the blog, and suggesting people or topics for future pieces.

This month the studio features  Sarah Green, Program Chair, 2011 AAA Annual Meeting

(1) What are you most passionate about–in life? In your work?

People and their relations with one another, as well as their diverse perspectives on the world. I am almost as equally passionate about other animals and their relations, though that is more of a personal than a work passion. A quite distant third is a passion for logical problems; that one is at the heart of my interest in gadgets and various technologies.

(2) What were you like as a 10 year old? As a 13 year old?  As a 16 year old?  Rebellious? Studious? Popular? Shy? Intense?

Generally, my two brothers and I were seen as being ‘different,’ though in what way depended on who was looking. That’s probably a common experience for children who grow up outside the country to which their parents tell them they belong. Otherwise, my memories of my childhood are marked by political events:

As a 10 year old: I was living in central Athens, and it was two years before the end of the military junta under Georgios Papadoploulos. I was aware of it, and most people I knew thought it was bad. The overthrow of the junta in 1974, which centred in Athens, was the scariest thing through which I have ever lived.

As a 13 year old: I had arrived back in the UK the year before, when I was 12, after 10 years of living in Greece. This was the early 1970s, when there was a serious energy shortage in the UK imposed by the sudden steep rise in oil prices (I remember a 3-day working week was imposed, and we were constantly exhorted to ‘SOS’ – Switch Off Something).

As a 16 year old: In that year, I began to read academic books and was very quickly hooked.

Continue reading

Detroit 2020 and Race: Are We So Different?

The Detroit 2020 has featured the American Anthropological Association’s Race: Are We So Different? project on their website as well as on their newscasts.  They are linking to some of the quizzes in segment titled “How Much Do You Know About Race?”   Detroit 2020 is utilizing this innovative educational tool to help unify their community in addressing the challenges facing their region.

AAA signs AAAS letter to protect NSF

The American Anthropological Association has signed a letter urging the House Appropriations Committee not to cut funds to the Nation Science foundations.  This letter, written by the American Association of the Advancement of Science, was signed by 149 U.S. science, engineering, and higher education organizations.

The letter states, “the undersigned organizations stand in strong opposition to legislative attempts to undermine the peer review process by seeking to defund research grants that have already been awarded after extensive evaluation by independent scientific review panels …  Furthermore, we strongly oppose attempts to eliminate or substantially reduce funding for specific areas of science such as the NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE).” The letter also outlines the contributions that multi-disciplinary approaches have had and will continue to have in science and out nation more broadly.

To read the full letter, please click here.

Putting Race on the Table: Annual Meeting coincides with RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition

The Annual Meeting of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region was held on June 15, 2011.  The theme of the meeting as well as an ongoing discussion series is Putting Race on the Table.  This meeting was presented to coincide with the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

To read more about the event click here.  To view a video of one of the discussion in the Putting Race on the Table series click here.

Call for Nominations for the 2011 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Award

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has called for nominations for the 2011 Philip Hauge Abelson Award.  This award, which was established in 1985, is given to a public servant for exceptional contributions to advancing science or a scientist who has achieved notable scientific achievement and has given other notable services to the scientific community.

The deadline for nominations is September 1, 2011.

For more information on submitting a nomination and to see past recipients please click here.


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