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 wee can attempt to navigate a middle course that recognizes this health issue but also offers alternative approaches to those set by the biomedical agenda.
This study addresses links between economic and nutritional variation in an urban North American setting. We employed a mixed-methods approach including mapping, semi-structured interviews, and food outlet surveys to investigate the public health impact of variation in the cost and availability of food between two socioeconomically distinct neighbourhoods of the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Food cost in supermarkets was not found to be higher in the low-income neighbourhood, though it was much higher in the variety stores that predominate in the low-income neighbourhood. Moreover, there was a very low availability of produce in the variety stores. Reduced fresh produce availability and lower incomes have the potential to negatively influence public health in the less-affluent study area by increasing the difficulty of acquiring healthy foods.
Epigenetic and life history approaches to child growth are centered on the relationship between the organism and its environment. However, defining and operationalizing the concept of environment is challenging, in light of the multiple variables that influence growth. Moreover, the concept of adaptation as it applies to child growth is seldom considered in the developed country context. This paper presents a study of children living in three neighborhoods in the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Two of the communities are considered adverse environments on the basis of low socioeconomic status, and their inner city, industrial location. In contrast to children living in the higher socioeconomic status area, children in these adverse environments display negative growth indicators, i.e., somewhat constrained linear growth in one and risk for overweight and obesity in both. Although both these inner city neighborhoods constitute adverse environments, they differ in ways that have a significant impact on children's growth. We argue for a definition of "adverse environment" that is broadly based, incorporating a range of physical, social, and temporal factors that are highly localized and sensitive to community-level influences on growth and health. As well, we consider whether higher prevalence of overweight and obesity is adaptive in any way to these adverse environments and conclude that they are more likely to be deleterious than adaptive in either the long or short term.
Food consumption was investigated in children attending three elementary schools in urban Hamilton, Ontario.
Dietary data were collected from 92 children in grades 2 to 4 through 24-hour dietary recalls (39% participation rate). Servings of four food groups were compared with recommended daily servings in Canada's Food Guide.
The majority of students did not consume the recommended five daily servings of vegetables and fruit. On average, they consumed a high number of servings of "other foods," which were not included in the four food groups. More than 50% of the students did not consume the recommended daily servings of milk products, and only a small proportion (21%) drank milk during school lunch.
We recommend that primary school educators promote the consumption of vegetables and fruits and milk products at school, either through healthy snack programs or educational programs.
Much of what we know about the determinants of access to health care comes from studies undertaken at a large scale, such as between cities, regions/counties/provinces/states and countries. This paper examines local level variations in access to and utilization of health care services across four distinct neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Survey data (n = 1500) were analysed using logistic regression to explore the potential relationships between neighbourhood and health care utilization and unmet health care need. Results show some relationships between neighbourhood of residence and levels of reported utilization as well as unmet need, even when controlling for predisposing, enabling, and need factors (i.e. Age, gender, household composition, income, education, perceived gp visit time) as well as health status. Findings from this empirical study suggest a finer lens is required to examine the mechanisms through which place impacts access to and utilization of care, one that recognizes the roles of compositional, contextual and collective aspects of neighbourhood.