Measuring tape to check bodymass

Obesity: A Human (Interactive) Kind Or Natural Kind?

Blean Tsige

This paper is a short analysis of obesity and how this issue is a human (interactive) kind since obesity is not considered to be constructed through natural consequences (Hacking, 1995). The definitions such as by Hacking (1995), have suggested that something can be considered a natural kind if “it's not peculiar to people in their communities”, which is the problem with obesity (pg. 353, Hacking, 1995). In fact, obesity is dubbed as globesity aka global obesity, by the World Health Organization (WHO), since this issue is becoming a problem for more people worldwide (pg. 9, Gillman, 2010). 

If after all over time more people in any community are increasingly affected by obesity, can we still consider this phenomenon as a human (interactive) kind? Or is it time to change the interpretation of obesity and define it as a natural kind? 


A Human Interactive Kind of Problem - Obesity

According to Hacking (1995), it is suggested in his research that human kind is sampled after the natural kind, in other words, it means that human kind and natural kind are not similar to each other. The main difference is that human (interactive) kinds are “social constructions while natural kinds are discovered in nature” (pg. 363, Hacking, 1995). The fact that human kind is considered a social construction means that obesity is something that is not natural. However, it is in fact common to want to biologize human kinds like obesity, which implies that obesity should be considered a result of nature and treated as such (Hacking, 1995). 

For example, reality television shows like My 600-lb. life on TLC, are focusing on Americans that are morbidly obese and weigh around 270 kg (My 600-lb Life, 2022). The TV show follows these characters around while they are in the process of losing weight to receive gastric bypass surgery or sleeve gastrectomy to allow them to lose enough weight to live a normal life (pg. 363-364, Hacking, 1995; My 600-lb Life). It is suggested in the show that these obese people are suffering and are experiencing severe health issues that are causing them to continuously put on weight (My 600-lb Life). This TV show has a staggering 10 seasons, which encourages this narrative that maybe it is time to consider the reinterpretation of obesity as a consequence of natural circumstances since a vast amount of people are affected by obesity. 


Figure 1. Globesity takes an effect all around us.


If there were not so many people affected by obesity, it would have been difficult for reality TV shows like this to exist for this long. It is also distinguishable to see this type of suffering the characters go through, which is displayed by the TV show (My 600-lb Life). This is somewhat of a method to biologize human kind's obesity, in order for the audience to see that it is not all the time the person's fault for being obese (Hacking, 1995; Gillman, 2010). The display of these characters allows viewers to sympathise with obesity and to see a different perspective of it since most of the characters struggle with health issues that causes them to gain more weight over time (My 600-lb Life). Thus, the outcome achieved by the TV show can be examined as an attempt to biologize human-kind issues like obesity, so that it might turn into a natural kind, demonstrating obesity as more than just a social construct (Hacking, 1995). 

The same method was applied by another science where alcoholism was considered to be carried in a gene instead of being viewed as a social construct, states Hacking (2010). This means that it was possible for a problem contemplated to exist as a social construct to shift into being established through natural, biologized emergence. Another example is that of Dhurandhar’s research where the main aim was “to define obesity as the symptom of an infectious disease” (pg. 126, Gillman, 2010). The research by Dhurdanhar suggested that obesity was triggered by an infection that has “altered brain pathways to encourage cell alteration and growth”, basically proposing that a person's genetics was causing them to gain weight uncontrollably (pg. 126, Gillman, 2010). 

In conclusion, the research indicated that this thought of approach seems to ideally work with obesity well, nevertheless, the theory by Dhurandhar’s research “was quickly abandoned”, according to Gillman (pg. 126, Gillman, 2010). This means, that there is no reinterpretation of obesity as being beyond a social construct instead the narrative surrounding obesity continues to automatically imply that the person is causing this problem willingly. Overall, this reasoning resumes to insinuate that obesity is still considered a social construct and therefore it is implied that obesity is still regarded as a human (interactive) kind. 



Ian Hacking (1995). The Looping Effects of Human Kinds. in Causal Cognition. An Interdisciplinary Approach. D. Sperber, D. Premack, and A. Premack, Oxford University Press: Oxford. p. 351-383 5. Hacking.Looping.Effects..pdf

My 600-lb Life. (2022). 

Sander Gilman (2010). Obesity: The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Prologue & Chapter 6 Gilman, Prologue and Chapter 6.pdf