The relationship between food, eating and body image

Harriet Brown

Magazine, News and Digital Journalism

Research focus: 

My last three books—Body of Truth, Brave Girl Eating, and Feed Me!—all explored aspects of our relationship with food, eating and body image.

What questions did your project seek to address?

What is true about the relationship between weight and health versus what do we believe is true?

How do the stigmas around weight play out in our culture, especially for women?

How have the cultural norms around weight and women’s bodies in particular changed over the last 150 years? How did we get to where we are now with those attitudes and norms?

What were your findings?

Much of what we think we know about weight and health is actually not true, and much of what is true is virtually undiscussed in the culture at large. We tend to believe that fat is bad and thinness is preferable from a health perspective, but the research on weight and health is complex and often contradicts these associations. For instance, heavier people with certain chronic diseases—including heart failure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes and others—actually live longer and do better than thinner people. That’s just one of many findings we rarely hear about it.

What are the implications of your reasearch?

In general journalists do a poor job of writing about weight and health. Coverage often adds to the high levels of stigma around these issues—deliberately or inadvertently—and often does not look more deeply than the press release level when reporting on these issues. We must do better. My work tries in some small part to facilitate better coverage.

I also try to give voice to those whose perspectives are under-represented in mainstream media: people with eating disorders, people who are fat, people who challenge the cultural norms around these issues.


Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It (Da Capo Press, 2015)

Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia (William Morrow, 2010)

Feed Me! Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image (Random House, 2009)