The fat people who matter: obesity, a social problem, not an individual – 05/11/2021 – Latinoamérica21

Metadiscourse – the way speeches are designed to interact with recipients – disseminated through the media and “social networks” represent body weight as a consequence of lifestyle. They equated “fat” to “sickness” and “thinness” to “health” and, therefore, “fat people” would be lazy people who do not follow a “healthy” lifestyle. Obesity, associated with fat, is therefore understood as a disease that people must control and avoid. In neoliberal societies, where “the autonomous and self-regulated individual” is highly valued, the social construction linked to “fat people” is particularly reprehensible.

In 2015, according to Healthdata, there were 107.7 million children and 603.7 million obese adults worldwide. And since 1980, obesity has doubled in more than 70 countries and has been rising steadily in most other countries. Obesity, however, remains an aesthetic and behavioral problem for societies, according to the specialized media Medwave.

This is a red flag for Latin American countries which, at the start of the third decade of the 21st century, are posting statistics showing a significant increase in the problem. The two countries that best represent the relationship between neoliberal policy and population growth in Latin America are Chile and Mexico. For example, in the case of Mexico, one of the most affected countries, in 1993 the metabolic syndrome – risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and other health problems linked to obesity – affected 30% people over the age of 20, according to the National Health and Nutrition Survey (Ensanut), while in 2012, seven in ten adults were overweight and obese.

Two decades after the declaration of the state of globesity vigilance – a term coined by the World Health Organization for the growing pandemic of overweight – the increase in obesity has continued to increase and its propagation is much more complex. This reflects the failure of strategies implemented in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which have traditionally approached the problem from an individual sphere associated with behavior, rather than approaching it as a whole, in proposing changes in the economic and food subsystems. And political. The great example of the 1990s of the increase in this health problem, coupled with changes in economic and social policies, is Ireland.


The complexity of social studies on obesity can be summed up in the results found by renowned obesity specialist Arnaiz in 2014. Their results show that obese people, despite being overweight and obese, view their health as ” healthy”. Despite this, people also internalize the prevailing conceptions of “fat” as a bad and unhealthy condition, which in turn establishes conflicting conceptions about their own body and state of health.

Differences aside, the current reductionist approach to health and the “global war on obesity” are problematic and potentially harmful. While environmental risks, as the researchers Costa-Font and Mas argue, are measured empirically in the globalized production and distribution system, “lifestyle risks” are based on long-term voluntary use – or improper use – household goods. Risk that is legally distributed in the market.

In the US and UK, the approach to the problem has failed to take into account that it is a systemic condition that transcends the psychological (individual), economic (social) and political spheres. (social). This cemented the debate and limited the implementation of effective public policies to combat the increase in the disease.


The definition, importance and consequences of obesity as a disease have changed dramatically in recent decades. Once considered a common comorbidity of other chronic diseases, obesity is now defined as a specific medical condition that deserves public attention and resources.

The etiology – the science focused on studying the cause of disease – of obesity is consistently attributed to the triumvirate of overeating, decreased physical activity, and lifestyle factors. Recent research has put around 22 million children under the age of five overweight due to sedentary lifestyles and Western eating habits. Developed countries are experiencing unprecedented rates of concomitant chronic disease and the early onset of type 2 diabetes in children and young adults.

Although obesity rates have stabilized their rise, the prevalence of obesity remains a public health problem for present and future generations. In terms of economic cost and public awareness, obesity has gained a prominent place in the context of social issues by raising concerns and controversies and stimulating public action in favor of the citizens concerned. Socially, the medicalization of obesity has defined obese people as “sick” because of the risk to their personal health, the cost to society, and social marginalization. Obesity remains a private matter with no socially constructed or informed solution.

The institutionalization of obesity as a public health problem in the late 1990s reinforced medical specialization in treatment and prevention efforts. Biomedicalization has promoted the depersonalization and de-stigmatization of the obesity condition as a result solely attributable to personal habits and individual responsibility.

Therefore, proposals to contain the spread of obesity in Latin America must take into account the fact that the social representation of obesity by specialists has shifted from a moral problem to a disease that must be explained and scientifically measured. . And, above all, it must be treated comprehensively.

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