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Is Cameron Diaz A Sociologist?

The well-known actress recently published a New York Times best-seller that may make you see her as one. The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body might not sound like the title of a sociological text, however the connections Diaz makes between societal influences and the health of Americans have the sociological imagination written all over them.  In this post, Mediha Din explores the use of the sociological imagination to understand health, with the help of Cameron Diaz’s recent publication.

It’s not too surprising that a book written by a Hollywood star on health and nutrition may find itself as number three on the New York Times Best Seller list. Many Americans are eager to learn the “secrets of the stars” when it comes to weight loss or health. However, Diaz’s book is not a diet guide or how-to on weight loss. It is an in-depth explanation of human health that makes strong connections between trends in our society and the health of our citizens.

The sociological imagination is a key concept in sociology (this post by Kimberly Kiesewetter describes the sociological imagination in detail.) Using your sociological imagination means being able to see the connections between the larger society and individual actions, events, or beliefs. Cameron Diaz’s book is filled with these connections. She discusses changes in American society based on technology. She cites scientific health studies examining how we were once a highly physically active society, but are now a “society that loves to sit”. Most American workers before the 1960’s had jobs involving manual labor such as farming and building. Most house work also required physical exertion such as washing dishes by hand or vacuuming with a heavy Hoover. Cooking required long bouts of standing to chop vegetables and watch the pots on the stove.

Today, modern conveniences have dramatically decreased our physical exertion. Many jobs require sitting at a desk and working on the computer for 8 hours a day or more. Microwaves, dishwashers, washing machines, frozen meals, and pre-chopped veggies have dramatically changed housework.  Affordable cars and televisions have also contributed to more and more sitting. The implications of less activity and more sitting on our health are devastating. Long-term sitting is associated with higher risks of heart disease, high-blood pressure, and diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana examined the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women over 13 years, and found those who sit for most of the day were 54% more likely to die of heart attacks. CNN’s report Sitting For Hours Can Shave Years Off Life discusses this study as well as many others examining the health risks of inactivity.

The sociological imagination can also be described as the ability to examine events/actions from a broader view point. Diaz begins her book on health doing just that “A hundred years ago, the United States was not a place where you could expect to find tacos and Chinese food and pizza in every town…What you would have found were a few small restaurants owned by locals, offering foods prepared in local ways with local ingredients. No fast-food chains, no food courts, no thirty-minute pizza delivery.”

Her book includes many graphic timelines such as a chart titled “The Evolution of Technology (Or How We Stopped Moving)” which describes the health impact of major technological advances from each decade starting the 1980’s. Widespread internet use is described for the 1990’s with the caption “No need to ever go to a library again with the emergence of the World Wide Web. No need to go out to make new friends. And staying in to watch a movie gets even easier with DVDs…”

The Body Book not only oozes the sociological imagination, it also employs three other major viewpoints in sociology: structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. More on that soon!

Dig Deeper:

  1. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Use your sociological imagination. How can societal influences have contributed to this change? Think of the roles of of government policies, education, corporations, and the media.
  2. Read this article on society’s influence on health. How has the community you live in positively and negatively impacted your health?
  3. Read the Discovery Channel report, 15 Modern Conveniences That Are Bad for Your Health. Which of these are part of your life?
  4. Examine your daily level of activity. How many times during the day are you inactive due to modern technology?