Are You What You Eat and Who You Know? Only If You're a Woman

OK, who isn't sick of counting calories?  Or, if you're a Weight Watcher's aficionado like I am, points?

Now a new survey is saying not only are we what we eat, we're also who we know.

Say what?

Put simply, a new study by by Vanderbilt University researchers reveals new nuances in the links between a person’s weight and the socioeconomic status of the people close to them, and suggests that gender plays a significant role in that relationship, according to newswise.com.

Though in the West high socioeconomic status is associated with slenderness, the relationship between status and weight is actually more nuanced than that. Using nationally representative data from the 2004 U.S. General Social Survey, Lijun Song, professor of sociology, and graduate students Philip Pettis and Bhumika PiyaSong analyzed the relationship between an individual’s weight as measured by a visual evaluation, the socioeconomic status of the people they’re close to as measured by their educational attainment, lifestyle as measured by self-reported athleticism, and gender.

While Song and her colleagues found no direct link between an individual’s weight and the socioeconomic status of their personal network, they did find an indirect one through lifestyle.

“Arguably people with higher status are more weight-conscious, they’re more concerned about their own body image, they’re more likely to practice weight-related lifestyle such as dietary habits and physical activities and control their weight,” Song says. “And if you are surrounded by people like that, you’re exposed to a stronger network norm of weight control. You’re more likely to become more conscious of your body weight, more likely to receive assistance with weight management, and are more likely to observe and imitate weight-control behaviors.”

I live in very affluent Fairfield County in Connecticut and I cannot tell you the number of women I see who could fit into doll's clothes.

The data bear this out: People with a more educated personal network are more likely to describe themselves as athletic, which can lead to lower body weights.

However, Song and her collaborators found a wrinkle: It’s only true for women.

There’s no question women pay a social price for excess weight, Song adds. “They suffer more in terms of educational attainment, they suffer more in terms of occupational status and income and they suffer more in terms of finding a partner in their life. And women with higher socioeconomic status suffer even more. They have to face even more rigorous societal expectations.  If they’re surrounded by people of high socioeconomic status, they’re going to face and conform to the body weight norm of slender femininity even more.”

For men, however, the reverse is true: Having higher-status contacts is associated with higher weights. “This seemingly surprising finding reflects the body weight norm of breadwinner masculinity,” Song says (look at Trump -- they're estimating his weight at 300 pounds now).

The researchers theorize that while the slenderness ideal becomes increasingly rigid for women as their social contacts’ socioeconomic status increases, men may experience more social pressure to prove they are masculine breadwinners than feel concern about excess weight and weight control. So they may feel less inclined to practice a weight-conscious lifestyle, such as dieting or exercising, than women.

“The implication here is that body weight norms are gendered, and one’s network reinforces it,” Song said. “So social contacts’ socioeconomic status produces opposite effects for men and women.”

When we go out to eat, my husband usually orders a salad.  Who do they deliver it to?  Me, of course.

It’s a dynamic Song sees every day. “One day I went to have lunch with my colleague, and I ordered salad and he ordered a big sandwich and we were talking about my project, and I said, ‘Look, you’re a professor with a Ph.D., I’m a professor with a Ph.D., but you are a man and I am a woman, so you’re less concerned about the consequences of what you eat, and I’m more concerned,’” she notes. “So we could see the network and the gender interacting there.”










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