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Shoham, Hammond, Rahmandad, Wang, and Hovmand (2015) assert that there is an increasing number of studies that have established a correlation between body image and health behaviors such as physical activity, eating, and dieting particularly among the youth in the United States. The implication of such studies is that body image affects obesity. A person who interacts with such studies and bears is ignorant of sociological imagination may wrongly believe that obesity is solely an individual’s problem; obese persons are overweight because of genetic predisposition or personal dietary choices.
However, from a sociological perspective, by analyzing the work of Carey, Malbon, Crammond, Pescud, and Baker (2016), it is evident that obesity is a widespread social issue resulting from an array of contemporary social and economic factors.
According to Kendall (2018), sociological imagination is “the ability to see the relationship between individual experiences and the larger society” (p.6). From a sociological imagination perspective, there is both a subtle and direct linkage between obesity and the obese person’s surroundings. According to Shoham and others (2015), some studies contend that people’s social contacts, directly and indirectly, affect obesity-related behaviors, and therefore, the structures of social networks determine who becomes obese and who does not. Such linkage is what Shoham et al. (2015) call the social influence hypothesis. The model by Shoham and colleagues is correlational, and a critique would want to know if there is a causal relationship between one’s social contacts and being obese instead of just a correlational relationship.
Causal or correlational, “a “model” is any simplified representation of reality that omits many details in order to provide insight into a problem” Shoham et al. (2015, p.2). in theory, many types of social influences on a health outcome are possible, and these include mechanisms other than social norms such as marketing, market forces, promotion campaigns, neighborhood crime, and socioeconomic factors like social capital. Social influence can be permissive or prospective, depending on the relatedness of those interacting. If a social interaction can encourage or limit behavior, it implies that it has a causal effect and not just a correlational one.
In a study by Arhire (2015), the researcher uses the principle of luck egalitarianism to contend that “inequalities deriving from un-chosen features of people’s circumstances are unjust and therefore should be compensated for” (p.325). This statement implies that if there is proof that a given problem affects a group of people who are unequally predisposed to the risk factors of an adverse health outcome, then such an outcome ceases to be a personal problem, and it becomes a social one. In this way, indeed, obesity is a social problem and not just an individual’s issue.
In the study by Carey et al. (2016), the researchers employ the residual conversion model as well as lifestyle drift on the issue of obesity to establish whether their approach can offer insights into the processes that motivate lifestyle drift to inform their obesity mitigation attempts. Despite dissenting voices, the study established that obesity and its risk factors generally follow a social gradient, and overall, obesity is more prevalent among the lower socioeconomic groups than the affluent group. This study is similar to Kendall’s (2018) – textbook- explanation of ways sociologists, apply sociological imagination to understand a problem.
Both the study and the textbook concur that obesity is a social problem and that one’s social interactions can result in the person being obese. Both the study and the textbook also qualify obesity as a social problem because it affects many people and requires societal-level interventions. Carrey et al. (2016) posit that obesity is more prevalent amongst the lower socioeconomic groups.
The only vivid difference between the research and the textbook models of explanation is that Carrey and colleagues use concrete research to support their assertions while the textbook employs rational inference from theory to make the argument. By and large, it is evident that obesity affects a group of people who are unequally predisposed to the risk factors of obesity – the lower socioeconomic groups – and is, therefore, a social problem.
Arhire, L. I. (2015). Personal and social responsibility in obesity. Romanian Journal of Diabetes Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases, 22(3), 321–331. Web.
Carey, G., Malbon, E., Crammond, B., Pescud, M., & Baker, P. (2016). Can the sociology of social problems help us to understand and manage ‘lifestyle drift’? Health Promotion International, 32, 755–761. Web.
Kendall, D. (2018). Sociology in our times: The essentials (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Shoham, D. A., Hammond, R., Rahmandad, H., Wang, Y., & Hovmand, P. (2015). Modeling social norms and social influence in obesity. Current Epidemiology Reports, 2(1), 71–79. Web.