Project description

Fatty foods and fat bodies: Diversification of ideals and practices in healthy eating

During recent decades it has become apparent that while Western cultural ideals celebrate a slender body, in real life people increasingly gain weight. In the debate on healthy, weight-conscious eating, the amount and quality of fat in the diet has for decades now been assigned a central role. The research project proposed here focuses on fat in both senses: fat in food and fat in bodies as well as the interconnections between them from a social scientific point of view.

This study combines perspectives from social and cultural food studies and critical fat studies by focusing on the case of ‘fat’ both in food and in bodies. By triangulation of researchers from different theoretical backgrounds as well as of using both qualitative and quantitative data and methods, the study produces knowledge on the ways in which fat is in multiple ways entangled with the practices of everyday life. It will enable a novel perspective on fat on healthy eating by discussing the problematics and intertwining of the contemporary discourses of healthy eating and of fatness.

The shared empirical case of the project is ‘fat’ as an example of current ideals and related practices of healthy eating in Finland. By focusing on fat both in food and in human bodies, the project will analyse the discourses and developments of food related health promotion and its criticisms as well as examine the ideas of weight and its control. The analysis of fat will bring out the tensions between various and increasingly contrasting ideals and practices of healthy eating.

The study consists of four sub-projects all of which aim at answering the following main question: What are the ideals and practices relating to fat and fat use in current Finnish eating? The sub-projects examine choices of fat and carbohydrate in Finland since the 1970s; ‘fat wars’ and public discourses of healthy eating in Finland, the making of (un)healthy bodies and the dieting and weight control in everyday settings.

The consortium collaboration provides a unique opportunity to combine survey data on food choices and consumption with multiple qualitative data that dig into the phenomena behind the statistical information. Moreover, it enables us to analyse both expert and lay perspectives on food and eating, i.e. both the established medical view and its opponents.

The data sets used in the project include two nationwide cross-sectional surveys of health behaviour and health in Finland collected since 1978 and 1985. The qualitative data consist of official guidelines and statements concerning healthy eating and fat use, other public health materials (brochures, pamphlets, advertisements), popular media articles concerning fat, health, weight and fatness, interviews of Finnish women from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and from dieting and weight management groups, empathy-based stories by the interviewees, articles published in Helsingin Sanomat (a major Finnish newspaper) between 1978–2011.

The sub-projects are carried out in close collaboration between the members of the research team. The researchers participate in various sub-projects across institute borders. The results of the project will be published in several co-authored articles published in social scientific and public health journals. The study will be conducted between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2015.

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