On the limitations of barriers: Social visibility and weight management in Cuba and Samoa

Hanna Garth, Jessica Hardin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Obesity is an enduring global health challenge. Researchers have struggled to understand the barriers and facilitators of weight loss. Using a cross-cultural comparative approach, we move away from a barriers approach to analyze obesity and overweight through the lens of social visibility to understand the persistent failure of most obesity interventions. Drawing on ethnographic data from Cuba and Samoa collected between 2010 and 2017, we argue that social visibility is a framework for analyzing some of the reasons why people do not participate in weight management programs when they have high rates of health literacy and access to free or low-cost programming. Comparing these two places with very different histories of obesity interventions, we trace how weight management practices make people socially visible (in positive and negative ways), specifically analyzing how gender and economic inequalities shape the sociality of obesity. Our findings show that regardless of barriers and facilitators of weight loss at an individual and population level, the ways weight loss activities are incorporated into or conflict with the social dynamics of everyday life can have a profound effect on weight management. Employing visibility as a analytic framework de-individualizes weight responsibility, providing a contextual way to understand the difficulties people face when they manage their weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112501
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Barriers and facilitators
  • Comparative research
  • Ethnographic research
  • Obesity
  • Social visibility
  • Weight loss


Dive into the research topics of 'On the limitations of barriers: Social visibility and weight management in Cuba and Samoa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this