Middle aged businessmen and social progress: The links between risk factor research and the obesity epidemic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this chapter, I will provide a brief introduction to the history of obesity from the perspective of my interest in the twentieth century history of nutrition science and its interactions with public health policy. I begin by explaining why, despite being recognised since antiquity, obesity is best considered as a modern phenomenon. I will describe the ways in which contemporary knowledge about the extent, and negative effects on health, of excess bodyweight (obesity and overweight) derive from American and British research into the causes of coronary heart disease. I continue by outlining the development the body mass index (BMI) to both define and measure rates of obesity, and how this information was used to map its increasing prevalence. I argue that the framing of obesity as a global epidemic by the World Health Organization in 2000 involved the development of a new, environmental, model of the condition that now co-exists alongside older individual models. Finally, I conclude with some thought of what the history of medicine can contribute to debates about appropriate responses to rising rates of obesity and overweight.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Critical Obesity Studies
EditorsMichael Gard, Darren Powell, José Tenorio
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780429344824
ISBN (Print)9780367362447
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • obesity
  • coronary heart disease
  • risk factors
  • history of medicine
  • public health policy


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