Obesity is socio-culturally distributed; that is the prevalence of obesity is known to vary according to socio-cultural factors, including socio-economic position, social roles and circumstance, and cultural factors. Further, these socio-cultural patterns are complex and specific to sex, age, and sometimes racial groups, as well as type of society, with patterns of relationships observed in developed countries sometimes reversed in developing countries. As described in Chapter 4, there is little doubt of the importance of the changing physical environment to the increases in obesity observed over the past several decades. However, far less attention has been paid to investigating the potential contribution of socio-cultural factors and to changes in the socio-cultural environment over time to the current obesity pandemic. The mechanisms through which socio-cultural factors may influence body weight and risk for obesity are also not well understood. In discussing socio-cultural influences we refer to systems of social relations (roles and relationships that define class, gender, ethnicity, and other social factors) and the meanings attached to these (1). For the purposes of this chapter, we focus on the impact of social, economic, and value systems on individuals' obesity-related behaviors (particularly, certain eating patterns and physical inactivity). In particular, we examine socio-cultural categories (socio-economic status, ethnicity, marital/family roles) for which evidence exists that rates of obesity are differentially distributed. We have not focused on the role of physical environmental factors, which is covered in Chapter 4, and we have largely restricted our focus to developed countries, from where the majority of the evidence for socio-cultural influences on obesity is derived. Issues relating to influences on obesity in developing countries are covered in detail in Chapter 5. This chapter provides an overview of the impact of socio-cultural influences on obesity in developed countries, and considers the potential pathways through which these influences may operate. The chapter concludes by speculating about the potential impact of societal trends on future rates and patterns of obesity in developed countries.
Field of Research
111799 Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified
HERDC Research category
B1 Book chapter
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