The “Childhood Obesity Epidemic”: Health Crisis or Social Construction?


There has been a meteoric rise over the past two decades in the medical research and media coverage of the so-called global childhood obesity epidemic. Recently, in response to this phenomenon, there has been a spate of books and articles in the fields of critical sociology and cultural studies that have argued that this “epidemic” is socially constructed, what Natalie Boero (2007) dubs a “postmodern epidemic.” As an anthropologist who has studied child nutrition and obesity in relation to poverty and the school environment, I am concerned about both the lack of reflexivity among medical researchers as well as critical scholars’ treatment of the problem as entirely socially constructed. In this article I present both sides of this debate and then discuss how we can attempt to navigate a middle course that recognizes this health issue but also offers alternative approaches to those set by the biomedical agenda.