Embodied Experiences Associated with Obesity and the Management of Bodyweight. Gender and Social Differences

  •  Louise Smith    
  •  Lotte Holm    


In many affluent Western societies the less educated are at higher risk of developing obesity. Within a conceptual framework of sociology of embodiment, this study analyzed the embodied experiences associated with obesity and the management of body weight among women and men with different social backgrounds. Qualitative in depth interviews were conducted with 20 Danish middle-aged men and women who were categorized as clinically obese in a national dietary survey. The study found a devastating impact of obesity in the lives of highly educated women related to motherhood, career and wifehood which interrelated with persistent efforts to lose weight and repeated involvement in a great variety of weight-loss activities. In contrast, body weight among the less educated interviewees was a concern only in specific situations of everyday life, and it was a health-related concern especially for those men who had experienced weight-related disease, which interrelated with less commitment to, and variation in, weight-loss activities. These findings may help to explain why obesity is least prevalent among highly educated women in Danish society as well as other western societies. A marked difference between men and women was that only few men followed dietary regimes which involved a focus on cooking or changing eating habits on their own initiative. In addition they did not participate in commercial weight-loss programs. We discuss how the social and gendered differences found relate to wider societal contexts and how the findings may both challenge and inform public health promotion.

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