Mia Forrest, PhD student, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

“Food is Calories, the Body is a Car”: Energy, Metabolism and Weight Loss at an Obesity Clinic in Sweden

In 1998 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared obesity to be a disease. Obesity, the WHO proclaimed, was a “global health crisis” which demanded immediate action from the WHO member states. Obesity’s classification as a disease marks a turning point within global health in which diseases caused by abundance and affluence pose a greater threat to public health than infectious disease. In the aftermath of this proclamation obesity has become a medical domain. Medical experts around the world are today tasked with helping patients to reduce weight and the health risks associate with the condition. This is a study of the work that is undertaken by one medical obesity Clinic in Sweden as they attempt to help patients lose weight and gain health in a context where these issues are understood to be of medical significance.

Through long-term fieldwork in 2010 and 2011 at an obesity clinic in Stockholm this study describes how obesity experts come to think about obesity as a specific type of disease, and weight loss as its cure. The thesis illustrates how medical experts attempt to formulate an understanding of this disease through their knowledge on the body and the ways in which body weight affects health.

While the thesis describes the work of one Clinic working with obesity treatment, the text makes the claim that the work of the experts at this unit does not occur in isolation. The shape that treatment takes is a response to a broader shift in the medical venture which has come to understand “lifestyle issues” such as food, eating habits, weight, and fat as medically relevant issues. This study explores the ways in which these issues immerse themselves into the practices of the Clinic and act to formulate a specific understanding of obesity and the body. The study makes the claim that the issues of food, weight, and fat are historically contingent and take a particular shape in the project of contemporary obesity treatment.

Examiner: Sebastian Mohr, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Aarhus University.