Writing project- Blog #2

This term’s writing project will be on obesity. This project began last year during a reading course with my supervisor. Originally the topic was mainly focused on body mass index (BMI) and its specific problems when used in reference to measuring metabolic fitness.  My supervisor and I tailored this topic as such because of a call for papers for an obesity journal that focused on ‘healthy’ obesity. Unfortunately problems arose with submitting our piece to this specific journal, and since the second term has begun, the paper has evolved to include a larger emphasis on the culture of obesity. Here is an outline of the newly designed paper, a general schedule to which I would like to follow in order to submit the paper at the end of the term, and some of the difficulties I am anticipating having to tackle in order to end up with a final product of sound quality.

This paper will argue for a shift in the way we view obesity. The first part of the article will describe why obese individuals not at considerably higher risk of disease than their normal-weight counter parts.  This will include discussion about a new phenomenon called ‘the metabolic healthy obese’ a sub-phenotype within the obese category of BMI over 30 who seemingly have no undesirable physiological symptoms of obesity.  They are not at an elevated risk for heart disease, they have normal levels of inflammation, and their lipid profiles are healthy. What this condition is suggestive of is that ‘fitness’ not ‘fatness’ is more important with respect to health and maintaining it. I will also introduce a phenomenon now prevalent in the obesity literature called the ‘obesity paradox’ which claims that in fact being over-weight or mildy obese, in certain circumstances, can be advantageous to health.

The second part of the argument will focus more on why we are so misinformed as to the health risks of obesity and how it is our culture that is driving this misinformed position. This argument will develop first from discussion of the BMI system and why it can be a deceiving form of measurement. I will also discuss what I feel is an interesting simantic point regarding the use of the word ‘paradox’ in the literature, and why this particular word, defined as ‘something contrary to its nature’, is important with reference to cultural perspectives driving biological ones. This section will also emphasize how skinny ideals are driving obese negativism and how issues of publication bias are perpetuating certain obese stereotypes.

In the third section i will discuss why we should care about cultural influences on the biology of obesity and why it matters to the health of our communities. Here I will discuss how body shape is used to make certain judgements regarding the character of an individual and how issues of morality and discipline tend to be conflated with body size. This obesity stigma also seems to be one of the only remaining accepted discriminatory practices and I will make an argument as to why this form of stereotype is still prevalent. There are also relevant clinical consideration in this discussion and I will outline why they are relavent  in the delivery of proper health care. I will finally discuss some evidence that the obesity paradox does not apply to measures of quality of life and that there are important mental health considerations in addition to the biological ones with regards to obesity.

Ideally, I would like to submit this article to an anthropological or social science journal by the end of this term.  My supervisor and I are anticipating that some revisions will be necessary if the article is fully reviewed and ideally the final revisions for this paper will be during this summer.

I am anticipating quite a few challenges with this writing project, and I am happy to be able to share some of my fledgling ideas here on a public forum. The principle challenge will be in the organisation of the argument.  The material for this article is from discussions I have had with my supervisor in our review of the obesity literature.  As such the pieces of the article are somewhat disparate and I have found it difficult to fit all of the points I would like to make within a logically consistent argument.  I feel that once I can clarify in my mind, and on the page, what it is exactly that I would like to offer in the article, the transition from ideas to words will come rather smoothly.


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9 thoughts on “Writing project- Blog #2

  1. Hello!
    It is interesting to read what you are working on; we have only briefly discussed the topic in the past, so it is fascinating to get to know more about your research. Much of the material related to nutritional anthropology or obesity within anthropology pertains to regions within North America as well as elsewhere. Are you hoping to limit your analysis to Western Biomedicine and the cultural significance of obesity, nutrition, and health within it? I think it’s good that you’re also considering body image and concepts related to ‘skinny’ as well as ‘fat’, as these terms are so loosely utilized in today’s discussion of health and everyday lifestyle.
    If you’re curious as to how to layout your discussion, I find that looking up the articles and what their requirements are will help to get you started. Then by analyzing some of the articles published within that journal you may get a sense of what they’re looking for and what is most likely to be published. It may be important to discuss health, nutritional requirements, and how this relates to daily activities/physical exertion to introduce your topic. If you do end up taking this route, I have some articles and books that may be of use to you!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Kat,
      Yah, I always seem to whine that the fact that anthropological writing does not set the scene properly so I will definitely try not making that omission. I think you are right, I would like to ‘set the mood’ by introducing the topic of obesity as simple not the outcome of too much eating and too little exercise and that that narrow view is responsible for some of the problems of perspective that we are now experiencing in the west.
      The comment about looking at prospective journals in awesome, I received similar feedback from other people and it should be a excellent tools to use to organize my thoughts.
      See you later- JL

      • Hello!

        Like everyone else who has commented, I think your project seems fascinating! I just wanted to comment on your statement above, that you are going to introduce the topic of obesity as “not the outcome of too much eating and too little exercise” – I think that this is so important! It may be something that you have already looked at, and it may be outside the scope of your paper, but this statement just made me think to ask whether you have looked at the clinical literature on obesity and prenatal programming? There is a lot of support for the idea that maternal diet during pregnancy can have a huge effect on obesity and other health issues that develop later on in the lives of the offspring, and which cannot be solved using lifestyle interventions. I think that this is another body of literature that could be used as great support for your argument.

  2. That sounds like a wonderful project. Your sections are very clearly defined. I assume most of your background research is done since a previous version of this paper was completed for your reading course and journal submission. Do you know what journals, more specifically, you may want to publish it in? It may help a lot of you could select 2 or 3 and go through their requirements. That should help when it comes to organizing your writing and possibly find the central argument. When I have trouble finding a coherent argument I often write down in point form all my ideas and the minor arguments I want to make then look for the central theme and argue for that theme. Lastly, don’t hesitate to come talk to us about your project, I find that often helps as well.

  3. Thanks For Sharing,
    Yes I would say this article is focused mostly on ‘western’ medicine and attitudes, but these ideas are now much more prevalent and seem to be quickly spreading.

    I think its a great idea to look at how the journal is laid out to get a sense of how to organize your paper. I have already started to go through some of the prospective journals to get just that sense.

    I agree, I think it will be important in the introduction to set a type of background that gets people caring about what the paper is trying to say.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Hello!
    You are investigating a very interesting topic; one I must admit I am not very familiar with. I was curious as to which anthropological guiding framework you will be using to discuss the topic of obesity. By this I mean, you mentioned investigating “why it matters to the health of our communities” and I was hoping you could elaborate on your use of the biocultural approach (please correct me if this is incorrect) and briefly discuss its significance to your research. I look forward to hearing more about your topic.

    • Hi!
      Well I would not say that I will be using any approach, as there will be no data collection, although there might be some data analysis. As far as why it matters, I have come across quite a bit of research done on the psychological impact that can afflict those of larger body size, as well as some clinical outcomes that do not favour those of heavier weight. What I want to say is that ‘fat’, ‘obese’, ‘over-weight’ are simply words defined by categories we created, but there are real implications to those words and the stigmas that are attached to them, for people in the real world.
      Thanks for the comment, JL

  5. Hi there,
    Looks like a great project, and like others am very interested to learn more about your work. I think perhaps what medeirp was referring to is whether there is a theoretical body of literature (or other Anthropologists) who you are engaging with…what crowd of Anthropologists are you hanging with a the cocktail party? Looking at the prospective journals is a good way to go, and, funnily enough, are more or less the point of the next three blog assignments. You may want to start digging around for articles that will be pertinent, or good models for this…

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