Weight…What? The Anthropology of Obesity

Level: Junior & Senior

Description: Almost 40% of the world’s population is overweight or has obesity. Obesity has become a central focus biological research as well as policy. Billions of dollars have been spent on public health interventions, biological interventions, diets, and exercise regimens. However, the obesity rate among adults and children has been steadily increasing globally. Why is this happening? How do we even define obesity? Does that definition truly reflect health? Why do we even have fat to begin with…actually what even is fat?!? Why are humans prone to obesity? These are just some of the questions we will address in this class. Using non-traditional methods and assignments, we will discuss adipose tissue and digestive physiology, the role evolution has played in the human propensity hold onto fat, diet and exercise, food insecurity, therapeutic interventions, as well as the physical and mental health consequences of having obesity. We will use this as a basis to investigate the biological and cultural factors including stigma, race, and gender that shape our perceptions of body image and health in the midst of the obesity epidemic. Finally, this course will include occasional laboratory exercises to familiarize you with the methods used to assess body mass, body composition, metabolic rate, and point of care measures of biomarkers like glucose and cholesterol. In this course you will gain an appreciation of the breadth and depth of human variation. You will engage with the material in both traditional and non-traditional ways in order to broaden your skillset and hone both your speaking and writing skills while also developing honest self-assessment skills.

Fall 2023 Obesity Syllabus