Food insecurity and body norms among rural Guatemalan Schoolchildren

Jonathan Maupin, Alexandra Slade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The predominant hypothesis regarding the ecology of body image suggests that contexts of food insecurity foster positive evaluations of and preferences for fat bodies as they symbolize wealth, social and reproductive success, strength, beauty, and fertility. Yet, there are few studies that empirically test this relationship or examine how experiences of food insecurity influence perceptions of thin bodies. In this study, we examine the ecology of body norms among a group of primary schoolchildren in a semirural community in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Specifically, we test the hypotheses that food insecurity predicts fat-positive or thin-negative evaluations of children's body size or, conversely, that food security predicts thin-positive or fat-negative evaluations. Utilizing a characteristic attribution task to measure positive and negative evaluations of average, thin, and fat bodies, we measure the strength of preference and prejudice for each body size. While we find a strong preference for average bodies and prejudice against both thin and fat bodies overall, food insecurity predicts children having very negative evaluations of thin bodies. These results suggest a different interpretation of the ecology of body norms as, rather than fostering fat-positive evaluations, food insecurity exaggerates biases toward thin bodies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-337
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Body image
  • Children
  • Food insecurity
  • Guatemala

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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