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Nutrition, Overweight and Health in Germany and the USA: A Comparative Analysis

Tae Jun Kim, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf

Within social epidemiological research, obesity is often analyzed under the framework of a causation hypothesis which argues that obesity, among other diseases, primary results from deprived living conditions. In this context, behavioral patterns as well as the knowledge about nutrition and health are seen as important possible explanatory factors. The latter is often perceived as an element of health literacy and considered a primary objective of public health interventions. These interventions mostly rely on education-based approaches. Hereafter, the knowledge on the ‘right’ nutrition, for instance, can be considered as the result from an either ‘correct’ (health-promoting) or ‘false’ (health-damaging) behavior, which reflects a risk factor for a variety of diseases, including overweight and obesity.

In contrast, the selection hypothesis argues that obesity also allocates the obese to certain social positions, meaning that social positioning is not only the cause, but also the consequence of obesity.
On the basis of a systematic review, first, this project aims to summarize the current social epidemiological state of research by comparing the two competing hypotheses (causation vs. selection). In order to gain additional insight to the current evidence on the relation between socioeconomic status and obesity in Germany and the USA, this review further investigates the distribution of causation- and selection hypotheses within public health and social epidemiological research.

Second, a comparative social survey in Germany and the USA with the focus on nutrition and health will be conducted. In particular, attitudes towards nutrition and health will be ascertained to test their associations with normative perceptions, moral judgements, one’s own lifestyle as well as self- and external perceptions of the obese body. Finally, this survey investigates, to which extent the attitudes as well as the stigmatization of the obese depend on further social factors (e.g. gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity).

Tae Jun Kim is research assistant at the Institute for Medical Sociology of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and PhD student at the Institute for Sociology of the University of Hamburg.