Obesity in question: understandings of body shape, self and normalcy among children in Malta.
Sommaire de l'article
Childhood obesity is a major public health concern in contemporary Malta. This article applies a critical realist approach to exploring body shape in young children, recognising fatness and obesity to be both a biologically and a socially constructed phenomenon. The agentic status of the child is central to the research design aimed at exploring understandings of body shape and how they impact on relational dynamics in the lived experiences of young children in Malta. Ethnographic methods were used in a school setting, working with children (n = 134) in two age groups: 5 and 10-year olds. The findings show a marked difference in the two groups. The obese 5-year-olds, buffered by robust protective strategies in their primary group, seem to be unaware of any difference in body shape. This situation changes in the older group where the fat body is stigmatised and obese children develop private coping strategies to deal with the physical disadvantages, taunting and exclusion by their peers. The data show that there is a culturally entrenched fluidity in the lay concept of obesity that impacts on the process of embodiment in young children and may have a lasting effect on body shape and weight.