The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology

By Michael Gard; Jan Wright | Go to book overview

7

Obesity science for the people

In a space somewhere between the hyperbole of the print-media and the generally (although not always) more considered tone of scientific journals, another kind of literature about the 'obesity epidemic' has appeared in the last decade or so. Contributors to this category of commentary usually claim to draw on the very latest science but with what is often called an 'educated lay audience' in mind. We might refer to this category as 'obesity science for the people'. Books such as Michael Fumento's (1997a) The Fat of the Land, Ellen Ruppel Shell's (2002) The Hungry Gene and Greg Critser's (2003) Fat Land are typical of this phenomenon. Although usually written in a deliberately non-academic style, they leave the reader in absolutely no doubt that they are intended as serious, scientifically informed contributions. As one dust cover testimonial says: '“The Fat of The Land” has the research of a doctoral dissertation yet reads like a compelling novel.'

Like Shawna Vogel's The Skinny on Fat (see Chapter 1), almost all of these authors represent themselves as being the true voice of science. However, as this chapter's selection of 'obesity science for the people' shows, they also present sharply contrasting views delivered with an air of unshakable certainty, often with withering contempt for different opinions. It is almost as if certainty in one camp forces others to take up equally rigid positions, creating a context in which uncertainty is simply not an option. And like Vogel, these authors not only claim to be faithfully presenting the current state of scientific knowledge, they also implore their readers to think in more 'scientific' ways.

The fact that a group of people all claim to be offering a rigorously 'scientific' perspective while arriving at very different conclusions should give us cause to reflect: are we looking at 'objective' assessments of the science or, instead, at different moral and ideological views dressed in the cloak of science? It is important to stress that, if the later turns out to be the case, this is not necessarily a bad or unusual state of affairs. All intellectual positions, including our own, rest primarily on moral and ideological assumptions, although these are not always made clear when people write or speak. The point to make is that the authors we consider in this chapter claim that science will lead us to the truth and, more specifically, that scientific ways of thinking are our best hope for solving the 'obesity epidemic'. Our purpose in considering these texts, therefore, is to suggest that thinking 'scientifically' is unlikely to deliver the definitive 'truth' about overweight and obesity. Nor is it likely to produce the 'obesity epidemic's' solution.

-126-

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The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality, and Ideology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • 1 - Science and Fatness 1
  • 2 - The War on Obesity 16
  • 3 - The Ghost of a Machine 37
  • 4 - 'Modernity's Scourge' 68
  • 5 - Fat or Fiction 86
  • 6 - The Search for a Cause 107
  • 7 - Obesity Science for the People 126
  • 8 - Feminism and the 'Obesity Epidemic' 153
  • 9 - Interrogating Expert Knowledge 168
  • 10 - Beyond Body Weight 187
  • References 191
  • Index 210
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