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Killer Fat

Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic”

Natalie Boero

Publication Year: 2012

In the past decade, obesity has emerged as a major public health concern in the United States and abroad. At the federal, state, and local level, policy makers have begun drafting a range of policies to fight a war against fat, including body-mass index (BMI) report cards, “snack taxes,” and laws to control how fast food companies market to children. As an epidemic, obesity threatens to weaken the health, economy, and might of the most powerful nation in the world. In Killer Fat, Natalie Boero examines how and why obesity emerged as a major public health concern and national obsession in recent years. Using primary sources and in-depth interviews, Boero enters the world of bariatric surgeries, Weight Watchers, and Overeaters Anonymous to show how common expectations of what bodies are supposed to look like help to determine what sorts of interventions and policies are considered urgent in containing this new kind of disease. Boero argues that obesity, like the traditional epidemics of biological contagion and mass death, now incites panic, a doomsday scenario that must be confronted in a struggle for social stability. The “war” on obesity, she concludes, is a form of social control. Killer Fat ultimately offers an alternate framing of the nation’s obesity problem based on the insights of the “Health at Every Size” movement.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

It is difficult to think of all the people I have to thank for helping this book come to fruition, but it is easy to think of whom to thank first. Without the generosity of my interviewees and all the various people I observed and spoke with, this book would simply not exist. To them I owe an immense...

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Introduction. Weighty Matters

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pp. 1-15

In a 2005 speech at the University of Texas, then U.S. surgeon general Richard H. Carmona stated, “Obesity is the terror within . . . [and] it is eroding our society.” In the same speech, Carmona added that the “childhood obesity epidemic” in the United States will have dire consequences for the...

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Chapter 1. Obesity as a "Leading Health Indicator": Public Health, Moral Entrepreneurs, and a Confluence of Interests

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pp. 16-39

In November of 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published Healthy People 2010, the third report in the Healthy People series started in 1979. Healthy People 2010 is not simply a report on public health priorities. It is, according to then U.S. surgeon general...

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Chapter 2. All the News That's Fat to Print: The American Obesity Epidemic and the Media

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pp. 40-58

Almost daily, newspaper headlines explore new facets of the obesity epidemic. New diet books and programs are promoted on the morning news and dramatic stories of surgical weight loss are staples of the talk-show scene. Popular magazines and websites span topics from entertainment...

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Chapter 3. Normative Pathology and Unique Disease

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pp. 59-93

The following vignettes come from my fieldwork in two of the best-known and most popular behavioral programs for weight loss, Weight Watchers and Overeaters Anonymous:...

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Chapter 4. Bypassing Blame: Bariatric Surgery, Normative Femininity, and the Case of Biomedical Failure

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pp. 94-123

As with the construction of the obesity epidemic and the experience of people in traditional weight-loss programs, notions of normalcy and techniques of normalization are central to the popularity of weight-loss surgery and the experiences of those who have sought out surgical weight loss....

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Conclusion. Health at Every Size or Thing at Any Price?

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pp. 124-136

In the years since this research was first conducted, concern over obesity as a social problem has only intensified. The continued search for a miracle weight-loss drug and the expansion of weight-loss surgery eligibility to children and people at lower and lower BMIs has been facilitated by...

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Appendix. Methodology

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pp. 137-143

In a general sense, the methodology of this book is based on Michel Foucault’s concept of “genealogy.” Genealogy, for Foucault (1977), is a way of understanding history that abandons the search for origins and metahistorical truths. Rather than searching for the linear truth of history...


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pp. 145-159


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pp. 161-169


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pp. 171-176

About the Author

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pp. 177

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553726
E-ISBN-10: 0813553725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813553719
Print-ISBN-10: 0813553717

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 3 figures
Publication Year: 2012