Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Sociology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Linda Liska Belgrave

Second Committee Member

John W. Murphy

Third Committee Member

Crystal Adams

Fourth Committee Member

Pamela Geller


In this dissertation, I explored the influences of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) 2013 designation of obesity as a “disease” on experiences of body weight. I conducted 31 in-depth interviews with 29 participants considered “obese” by medical standards (BMI > 30 kg/m2) who had had conversations with a health professional about their body weight since the AMA’s policy change. Taking a symbolic interactionist approach complimented by grounded theory methodology, I addressed the following research questions: 1) What are the experiences “obese” people had when visiting a health professional post the AMA’s re-classification of obesity? 2) How did the designation of obesity as a “disease” affect the language used in discussions of body weight between the health professional and the patient? 3) How did “obese” patients interpret the language used in these discussions of body weight? Findings suggest two common themes among participants’ experiences: 1) a series of competing realities that complicate participants’ everyday interactions with others (health professionals and lay persons) and alter how participants see themselves, and 2) life-long, ongoing ties between participants’ body weight and selves that are borne from past and recent interactions with others. Findings suggest that understanding experiences participants had with body weight since June 2013 requires an understanding of past experiences with body weight.


obesity; AMA; medical sociology; qualitative; medicalization; health