Tag Archives: obesity

Affecting Our Physique: The Place of Obesity

by Jen Turner

By Octagon (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Research carried out with people living in Colorado, US, has found that Americans who lived well above sea level were less likely to be obese than those in low-lying areas.  Reported in the Mail (online), Lead researcher Dr Jameson Voss, from Uniformed Services University in Maryland, said: “I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect… I wasn’t expecting such a consistent pattern as what was emerging.” The study based on data from 400,000 people living in Colorado illustrated that a person’s obesity risk dropped with every 660ft increase in elevation.

To examine obesity rates at different altitudes, the researchers combined information from several databases, including a telephone health survey of 422,603 Americans from 2011. The researchers had information on 236 people who lived at the highest altitude of at least 9,800 feet above sea level. Those people tended to smoke less, eat healthier and exercise more.

The researchers also had information on 322,681 people who lived in the lowest altitude range – less than 1,600ft above sea level. After taking into account other factors that could influence the results such as retirement age, the researchers found adults living in the lowest altitude range had a Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement of weight in relation to height – of 26.6. That compared to people who lived in the highest altitude range, who had a BMI of 24.2. A healthy BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9.

Dr Voss considered that the associations persist over the long term, with changes in elevation perhaps affecting appetite hormones, growth and how many calories the body burned. These findings could help explain the difference in obesity rates between states.  However, the results are unable to conclude whether moving to an area of high altitude would mean you would automatically loss your excess weight.  It would be interesting to study whether obesity prevalence would change if the research participants moved to a lower altitude.

The rapid rise in obesity rates over the last 30 years has been considerably noteworthy for geographers due to its profound implications for the health of populations. A recent paper by Dianna M. Smith, and Steven Cummins explains that, as this rise has occurred over a relatively short biological time scale, it is suggested that changes in the environments to which we are exposed may be to blame, rather than individual genetic endowment. Focusing on developed world nations, this article briefly reviews this emerging ‘ecological’ perspective in the search for the causes of obesity. This article explores how aspects of our environment might disrupt ‘energy balance’ through influencing food consumption and physical activity. It focuses on three hypothesised pathways for environmental risk: the organisation of built physical space, the social environment and the political environment. The article demonstrates that a consideration of scale and context are also important in the search for the environmental drivers of weight gain. For the discerning geographer, these inherent relationships between physical spaces and the body continue to be of interest; with this particular topic generating another avenue of study surrounding the transformation of the individual through space.

books_iconDianna M. Smith, and Steven Cummins, 2008, Obese Cities: How Our Environment Shapes OverweightGeography Compass, 3(1), 518-535.

books_iconJ D Voss, P Masuoka, B J Webber, A I Scher and R L Atkinson, 2013, Association of elevation, urbanization and ambient temperature with obesity prevalence in the United StatesInternational Journal of Obesity, DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2013.5.


Want to slim down? Living at a higher altitude can help (and it’s nothing to do with climbing)Mail (online), 13 February 2013.

Geography Compass Content Alert: Volume 6, Issue 2 (February 2012)

The latest issue of Geography Compass is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents. Continue reading

Britain’s industry-backed healthy-eating plan

By Paulette Cully
In the search for the environmental causes of weight gain, Smith and Cummins (2009) in a Geography Compass article, explore how aspects of our environment might disrupt the ‘energy balance’ through influencing food consumption and physical activity. Being overweight or obese, is indirectly associated with an increased risk of death through its role as a major risk factor for a wide range of chronic diseases including coronary heart disease and some cancers, Obesity is also directly associated with other serious health problems including hypertension, diabetes and osteoarthritis. The fact that the rapid rise in obesity rates over the last 30 years – which is a relatively short biological time scale – suggests that changes in the environments to which we are exposed may be to blame, rather than individual genetic legacy. Focusing on developed world nations, the article reviews the emerging ‘ecological’ perspective in the search for the causes of obesity and focuses on three hypothesised pathways. The first is the organisation of the built physical space which for instance, may not promote walking as a means of transport or recreation (such as footpaths) and  connectivity of residential areas, limited access to leisure facilities, fewer supermarkets and a relatively high accessibility to fast food/takeaway shops. The second is the social environment, which can influence eating habits, both in terms of the types of food consumed and the amount of calories eaten at a meal. The third is the political environment, which can for instance influence low-income consumers to purchase less expensive food options which may exceed dietary guidelines of fat, salt and sugar intake.
With the above in mind, the coalition Government unveiled a 250 million pound plan over the New Year weekend, which is financed by the food industry, to promote good eating. As part of the Change4Life programme the scheme is aimed at combating Britain’s high obesity rate by encouraging people to eat more healthily and to exercise more. The Government has pledged to stop lecturing people and instead nudge them toward a healthier lifestyle. Under the scheme millions of people will receive vouchers which offer discounts on healthy eating. In England millions of people will get 50 pounds’ worth of vouchers giving discounts on foods such as low-fat yogurts, whole grain rice, frozen vegetables, fruit and alcohol-free lager. The News of the World will distribute three million books of vouchers, Asda, will hand out a million and community groups a further million. However, some experts have accused food manufacturers of using it to enhance their image because the vouchers offer discounts on products from food companies including Kellogg, Unilever, Nestle, Mars, Warburtons, Bird’s Eye and some Asda own-brand goods and trainers from JJB Sports. The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the scheme was a “great example of how government, the media, industry and retailers can work together to help families to be healthy.” In response, a board member of the National Obesity Forum, set up by doctors to highlight the health consequences of obesity, called the programme a step in the right direction but said it was too short-term to change people’s mindset about food. Only time will tell.

Obesity out of control?

by Jayne Glass

A recent article on the BBC News website reports on research carried out at Maastricht University.  The Dutch research looked at data from nearly 4,500 adults and found that overweight people are more likely to make frequent trips to their GP than smokers or those who are generally unfit.  Although the study could not conclude why overweight people might visit their GP more often, the scientists speculated that they may have more minor complaints, such as musculoskeletal pain or sleep problems.

In the latest edition of the Geographical Journal, Thomas Burgoine reviews a recently published book by Francis Delpeuch, entitled ‘Globesity: A Planet Out of Control?’.  Delpeuch’s book is a “fascinating account” of the origins of obesity and the “global obesity epidemic” that seems to be prominent in today’s news reports.  Burgoine believes that this book offers a much needed interdisciplinary perspective on obesity and creates a “useful compendium of scientific fact and an engaging, thought provoking argument”.  It offers insight into the global geography of obesity and illustrates arguments with applied examples such as McDonald’s ‘Go Active’ campaign to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity.

Read the BBC news story – ‘Obese visit GP more often than smokers, researchers say’

Read Thomas Burgoine’s review of ‘Globesity: A Planet Out of Control?’ by Francis Delpeuch, in the Geographical Journal, 176(3), 271.

The Geographies of Childhood Obesity

Sarah Mills

The recent criticism Jamie Oliver received for his attempts to combat obesity in the US highlight how emotive the issue of childhood obesity can be.  The American backlash to Oliver’s latest show – Food Revolutions – has been widely reported and analysed in British newspapers.  Some commentators have remarked it is merely a response to ‘pushy’ Brits and demonstrative of the dwindling ‘special’ relationship between US and Britain.  It has, however, raised the issue of childhood obesity and policies regarding school dinners once more.  This latest venture by Oliver follows on from Jamie’s School Dinners, which aired in the UK in 2005 and focused on improving healthy-eating in British schools.  Whilst his approach received criticism from some quarters, it has had a marked effect on the approach and policies of the UK Government towards school meals.  Indeed, recently published research has shown an overall improvement in children’s health and performance at schools that participated in Oliver’s ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign.  It is yet to be seen how successful Oliver’s campaign in the US will be, yet I would argue his programmes and the debates they raise clearly demonstrates the need for a critical geography of obesity.

Geographer Bethan Evans has focused specifically on childhood obesity and UK policies in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  She explores geographical work on obesity and pre-emptive biopolitics, before examining the “dystopian production of the future nation in obesity policy” (2010:21).  She argues how “children are central to the production and pre-emption of obese futures because of the affective potential of childhood and the paradoxical position of children’s bodies both as children in the present and adults of the future” (2010:21).  Though focusing on the spatiotemporalities of obesity policies, Evans speaks to broader debates about the role of young people in pre-emptive politics and the geographies of ‘globesity’.

Read Toby Young in The Guardian on Jamie Oliver’s US criticism

  Read the BBC Online Story on Oliver’s successful ‘Feed Me Better’ Campaign

  Read Evans, B. (2010) ‘Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (1): 21-38

Fateful fatness

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Reports about the pandemic of obesity affecting Western countries are never far from the news agenda. Urgent cries for action aiming at saving us from our expanding waistlines and saving our children from our sedentary influences dominate the public advice agenda. The latest addition to this collection of shock actions came from the US, where Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, tried to enforce a healthy living class for those students with a BMI of more than 30 before they could graduate. However, it seems that the university has had to relax its approach and taking the class has become recommended instead of compulsory. In another recent article for The Guardian, Rachel Williams has looked at this issue in British universities as it seems that we (the student collective) are not very keen on exercise or taking care of what we eat and we need to be helped in ‘disciplining’ our ways.

In a recent piece for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Beth Evans (2009) provides an insightful view into critical geographies of obesity. She “critically analyse[s] the production of obesity as a ‘threat to the future of the nation’ through considering obesity as a biopolitical problem – which simultaneously addresses the individual body and the ‘population’ (Foucault 1997) – and as a form of pre-emptive politics – attempting to control the future through action in the present (Anderson 2008a 2008b)” (Evans, 2009:21). Her analysis provides a complex picture of the dynamics behind the current anti-obesity policy in the UK and helps us consider what lies behind public perceptions of fateful fatness.

Read Ed Pilkington’s article “Success at fat-fighting Lincoln University hinges on BMI test” The Guardian, 4th December 2009

Read Rachel Williams’ article “Fat is a student issue” The Guardian, 15th December 2009

Read Bethan Evans (2009) “Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity'”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35(1): 21-38.

Our fat future?

Measuring obesity: normal, overweight and obese

Model sizes: 'normal' - 'overweight' - 'obese'

By William Hasty

The world’s heaviest human being lives in the UK – Ipswich to be more specific. He weighs 70 stone and, as of this week, requires highly specialised medical care to keep him alive. His case, the Observer reports, has rekindled the ongoing debate surrounding the apparent “obesity epidemic” that lies in wait not only in the US – ‘the junk food capital of the world’ – but also in the UK. For policy-makers, attempting to mitigate the impending disaster that this trend represents, children are at the centre of the debate – they are, the report insists, “far more likely to grow up into fat adults with all the health problems that extra weight brings if they are fat as children”.

Bethan Evans, in a recent paper entitled Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’, questions the “spatiotemporalities of obesity policy in the UK”, focusing particularly on “the role of childhood and children’s bodies within such policy”. In what is an engaging and informative article, Evans, drawing upon the work of Foucault and Massumi, details the emergence of obesity as a biopolitical problem and positions the response of UK policy-makers as a “form of pre-emptive politics”. The paper concludes by arguing for “[C]ritical engagements with the spatiotemporalities of obesity policy”, or “geography risks becoming the discipline associated with the perpetuation of this immensely problematic discourse”. ‘Our fat future’, if we are to adopt the lexicon employed by those treating the subject in both the media and policy, obviously demands attention, and Evans has done much in this paper to indicate the productive ways in which geographers can contribute,  and perhaps even steer, this concern.

60% world

Observer Read full news story: Who’s to blame for Britain’s obesity episemic?, Observer, Sunday 25th October 2009

60% world  Read full paper: Bethan Evans (forthcoming) Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers