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Models of Obesity


Obesity: A growing problem around the world


Green Templeton College Conference 


University of Oxford, 16 September 2019


Academics, policy makers, medical practitioners and postgraduate students in diverse fields met to generate discussions on broad approaches to understanding obesity around the world and its relation to human development, social well-being, food environment, food and health policy. 

The presentations were

Keynote Lecture: Obesity - human developmental perspectives

Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, University of Oxford


The metabolic consequences of obesity  

Professor Leanne Hodson, Radcliffe Department of Medicine

Using low-energy diets to treat obesity: from research into practice

Dr Nerys Astbury, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford


The evolution of adipose tissues and how natural obesity in wild mammals elucidates human obesity

Professor Caroline Pond, Open University

What's the endgame? A 20-year vision for obesity

Professor Harry Rutter, University of Bath

Exploring the link between obesity and social wellbeing for urban Indigenous Australian communities

Sarah Bourke, Medical Anthropology, St John's College, University of Oxford


The UK Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan

Professor Mike Rayner, University of Oxford

Obesity and the Food Environment in Mongolia

Keiko Kanno, Medical Anthropology, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford



Chaired by Professor Keith Frayn, University of Oxford

Sarah Bourke, Harry Rutter, Mike Rayner and Keiko Kanno in discussion

gtc conf 2019.jpg

Eating, uncertainty and the body



University of Copenhagen, 19 December 2018


In December, CoRe had a visit from a group of researchers from the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity (UBVO) at Institute of Social & Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. The visit included a seminar, at which the visiting researchers presented on aspects of their current work.

The speakers were:

Tess Bird (Wesleyan University): Locating Everyday Uncertainty in the [American] Home


Stanley Ulijaszek (University of Oxford): Models in obesity and obesity-related health studies


Karin Eli (University of Warwick): Understanding eating disorders: clinical measures, lived experience and big data


University of Copenhagen


Models of obesity

Social science and humanities (SSH) perspectives on models of obesity: Tracing obesities along and beyond the structures of research and policy 


Panel at ECO2015, Prague, 6-9 May 2015

This session explores how models of obesity come about in interdisciplinary research. The invited speakers will draw from on-going historical and anthropological inquiries into how obesity is modelled in situated contexts of research, intervention and political decision-making. Such modelling produces multiple pictures of obesity, or different obesities. Three talks explore the many networks and relations through which different obesities are generated and negotiated. The session offers new avenues and conceptual terrains for interdisciplinary engagements between social science and humanities (SSH) and the life sciences.

The session outline included:

  1. Introduction: Models in obesity research (Geof Rayner)

  2. Political models (Stanley Ulijaszek & Amy McLennan, the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity (Oxford))

  3. Historical models (Anne Katrine Kleberg, Governing Obesity, SAXO institute, University of Copenhagen))

  4. Research models (Line Hillersdal & Jonas Winther, Governing Obesity, Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities, University of Copenhagen))

  5. Discussion: Implications for interdisciplinary engagements


Ulijaszek S and McLennan A. Political models: Set within Regulatory Frameworks and Ideologies

Obesity has been an object of considerable policy activity in high income countries in past decades. Most have placed responsibility on the individual. A notable outlier was the Foresight Report ‘Tackling Obesity: Future Choices’ because it reframed obesity as a complex problem that required multiple sites of intervention well beyond the range of personal responsibility. In this presentation we examine the complexification of obesity and how different political systems and welfare regimes frame obesity.


Kleberg AK.  Historical models: Normal weight, BMI and Obesity

Authors of historical articles in medical journals often state that the Body Mass Index (BMI) rightly ought to be called the Quetelet-Index to commemorate its originator. Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet (1796-1874) applied statistical methods developed within astronomy to the social spheres of human lives in his quest for L’homme Moyen. Quetelet did not investigate obesity but he was amongst the first to suggest a concept of normal weight. In this presentation I explore Quetelet’s concept of normal weight and its somewhat sceptical reception by medical practitioners. Physicians of the time were not convinced that a statistical derived normal conveyed any information about health. This leads to issues of how the average and the normal historically have come to be interchangeable words and how statistical concepts such as normal weight are not just used as descriptive categories within medicine but are also used as a tool of self-practice in everyday lives.


Hillersdal L and Winther J. Research models: Moulds and figures in Collaborative Obesity Research

A novel trend within obesity research is to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations as a response to the increasing prevalence of obesity globally. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork among two interdisciplinary groups of obesity researchers, this talk investigates how local configurations of research settings, funding criteria, academic affiliations and ambitions shape how obesity as a research phenomenon is imagined, organised and executed within the realm of politically charged research agendas. Proposing the metaphor of models as figures cast from a mould, we show how the conditions offered in the promotion and facilitation of interdisciplinarity curb rather than open up how obesity is made an object of intervention and study.


Elgaard Jensen, T., Kleberg Hansen, A.K., Ulijaszek, S., Munk, A.K., Madsen, A.K., Hillersdal, L., and Jespersen, A.P. (2018). Identifying notions of environment in obesity research using a mixed methods approach, Obesity Reviews 1-10. DOI: 10.1111/obr.12807


Ulijaszek, S.J. (2017). Models of Obesity. From Ecology to Complexity in Science and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.


Ulijaszek, S.J. and McLennan, A.K. (2016). Framing obesity in UK policy from the Blair years, 1997-2015: persistent individualistic approaches despite overwhelming evidence of societal and economic factors, and the need for collective responsibility. Obesity Reviews 17: 397-411.

Ulijaszek, S.J. (2015). With the benefit of Foresight: obesity, complexity and joined-up government. BioSocieties 10: 213-228.

Ulijaszek, S.J. (2008). Seven Models of Population Obesity. Angiology, 59, supplement 34S-38S.

Ulijaszek, S.J. (2007). Models of population obesity and cultural consensus modelling. Economics and Human Biology, 5: 443-57.


models of obesity disciplines 2017

Many disciplines are involved in obesity research and intervention, and they engage with many different models (Table from Ulijaszek SJ, 2017, Models of Obesity, Cambridge University Press.

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