04:14pm Friday 15 December 2017

Social class shapes health and body image – new study

A new study at the University of Leicester is to combat the assumption that it is only the aspiring middle classes who worry about their health and body image and are more concerned to subscribe to the ‘slender ideal’ and ‘healthy BMI measurements’.

However, very little is known about how those from lower socio-economic backgrounds engage with information about health and ideas about body shape, size and weight.

Oli Williams from the Department of Sociology is conducting doctoral research to investigate how those from lower-socio-economic backgrounds understand and define their bodies and health.

He argues that health is being simplified to the equation “Eat well, Move more, Live longer” without acknowledging that people are differently positioned and differently motivated to engage with health advice.  His in-depth study of a council housing estate and newly built leisure centre in the East Midlands seeks to show how perceptions of health and body are affected by the communities people live in and the leisure and other opportunities available in those areas.

Williams contends that presently  the responsibility to follow health advice is predominantly placed on the individual and takes little  account of the many important factors which not only affect people’s health status but also their ability to follow this simplistic mantra, e.g., the location of and accessibility to facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, super-markets and childcare services.
Williams commented:

“Having health presented in such simplistic ways in our society is both erroneous and irresponsible. It is great to have the chance to increase public understanding in this area and to help reshape this important debate.
“Also, working alongside people from lower-socio-economic backgrounds in research of this kind gives me great satisfaction as it is important that what are actually shared issues of health, fitness, diet and the body are not presented only as middle class preoccupations.”

Hoping to improve the situation, Williams added:

“The more we know about how people from different social classes understand health and how their social position affects their ability to engage in health advice, the more informed we can be about the legitimacy and relevancy of future health advice.”

Professor Ellen Annandale from the Department of Sociology added:

“This important in-depth research will help to dispel the myths that surround social class and so-called ‘healthy living’. The output will make an important contribution to future health promotion activities.”

  • This research is being presented at the Festival of Postgraduate Research on Thursday, 16 June.  The annual one-day exhibition of postgraduate research offers organisations and the public the opportunity to meet the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers. More than 50 University of Leicester students will explain the real world implications of their research in an engaging and accessible way. The event is open to the public and free to attend. More information at http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/sd/pgrd/fpgr.

Notes to Editors
For more information, please contact Oli Williams:
E-mail: osw1@le.ac.uk
Phone: 01162522156

Violetta Mertins


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