Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

The Weight of Obesity

Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala

Emily Yates-Doerr (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 248 pages
ISBN: 9780520286825
September 2015
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
A woman with hypertension refuses vegetables. A man with diabetes adds iron-fortified sugar to his coffee. As death rates from heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes in Latin America escalate, global health interventions increasingly emphasize nutrition, exercise, and weight loss—but much goes awry as ideas move from policy boardrooms and clinics into everyday life. Based on years of intensive fieldwork, The Weight of Obesity offers poignant stories of how obesity is lived and experienced by Guatemalans who have recently found their diets—and their bodies—radically transformed. Anthropologist Emily Yates-Doerr challenges the widespread view that health can be measured in calories and pounds, offering an innovative understanding of what it means to be healthy in postcolonial Latin America. Through vivid descriptions of how people reject global standards and embrace fatness as desirable, this book interferes with contemporary biomedicine, adding depth to how we theorize structural violence. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about the politics of healthy eating.
Emily Yates-Doerr is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.
"Yates-Doerr's book offers wise counsel... an excellent indictment of nutritionism."—Raj Patel
"She convincingly argues there is an element of race-making in the talk around fat and the pathologization of certain lifestyles."—Medical Anthology Quarterly
"The richness of the book lies in its attention to detail. Emily demonstrates a lovely care for language throughout, showing how specific words are not just embedded in but elicit social contexts."—Rebeca Ibanez Martin Somatosphere
"In the short few weeks that I have had [Weight of Obesity] on my desk, I have come to consider it as a text to think with, an approach to learn from, and material to teach. The text will inform my own practices as an anthropologist, a science studies body, a teacher, and—on a good day—a writer. Just to wrap up my praise: like very few others, this text accomplishes what any book should: it makes one live with it, through it, and see the world through its eyes. If a book has eyes, that is—and of course, not to over-privilege the visual among the senses."—Marianne de Laet Somatosphere
"The Weight of Obesity offers a plethora of wide-ranging ideas that emerge powerfully from an ethnography that is subtly grounded on the rupture of political change and the inequities of a global political economy."—Simon Cohn Somatosphere
"The Weight of Obesity is a wonderful book. It is a book that invites the reader to read aloud brilliant insights and moving, sometimes truly piercing observations. The book contrasts myriads of local intricacies with the global health attempts at ‘treating obesity’. The book links eating practices to such heterogeneous things as pesticides, traditional social obligations of food preparation, the workings of bodies, global politics and hunger, fortified sugar, the beauty of fatness, and racism. This is done with great sensitivity for the particular ways the language of her informants frames practices of eating, health, and happiness. The book is rica, the Guatemalan word for delicious, tasteful, rich."—Jeannette Pols Somatosphere
"Emily Yates-Doerr gives us an anthropologist’s tough analysis of how one resource-poor Guatemalan population responds to an increasingly globalized food supply as it transitions rapidly from widespread hunger and malnutrition to the increasing prevalence of obesity and its health consequences. The Weight of Obesity views this 'nutrition transition' from the unusually revealing perspective of an insider who experienced it personally with eyes wide open." —Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

"Yates-Doerr skillfully interweaves theory and ethnographic evidence in showing what happens when U.S. nutrition science and public health campaigns to address 'obesity' are imported to indigenous Guatemala, with its very different language, culinary culture, and political history. This will be a model ethnography for students of anthropology, and particularly anthropology of science." —Heather Paxson, author of The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America

"This book presents an important and novel perspective on the body, nutrition, and health in the complicated social landscape of western Guatemala. Yates-Doerr uncovers the complex and contradictory ways that the scientific metrics of nutrition intersect with local culinary traditions and modern food preferences to produce both malnutrition and obesity." —Edward F. Fischer, author of The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing

"In this finely nuanced ethnographic account of nutritional counseling in Xela, Guatemala, Yates-Doerr shows how the ostensible simplicity of ideas to eat more of one food group and less of another can not only be terribly opaque but can also inflict a unique sort of violence." —Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism

"Reading this book is a riveting ethnographic journey into the rich cultural meanings and devastating social consequences of the 'nutrition' revolution in Guatemala. It is full of brilliant insights that turn conventional understanding on its head. Readers will never think about health, diet, nutrition, weight gain, or obesity the same way again. Based on extensive field research, Yates-Doerr has produced a tour de force: an ethnography that joins deep cultural understanding with astute analysis of the powerful global interests at play."—Emily Martin, author of The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction

"This is a truly remarkable book. It resists reductionist accounts, exploring instead what it is to weigh bodies and use numbers. It avoids conceptual closures, laying out instead how obese (a problem) differs from fat (a strength). Its rich stories about food and care will etch themselves in your soul." —Annemarie Mol, author of The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more