How does cultural capital keep you thin? Exploring unique aspects of cultural class that link social advantage to lower body mass index

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Abstract

A widely used indicator for cultural class is strongly related to a lower body mass index (BMI): cultural capital measured as 'highbrow' taste. This study's objective was to theorise and measure aspects of cultural class that are more plausibly linked to low BMI, and subsequently explore their relevance. Building on Bourdieusian theory we derive four of those aspects: 'refinement' (valuing form and appearance over function and substance), 'asceticism' (self-imposed constraints), 'diversity' (appreciation of variety in and of itself) and 'reflexivity' (reflexive deliberation and internal dialogue). Using standardised interviews with 597 participants in the Dutch GLOBE study in 2016, we subsequently demonstrate: (i) newly developed survey items can reliably measure four aspects of cultural class: 'asceticism', 'general refinement', 'food refinement' and 'reflexivity' (Cronbach's alphas between 0.67-0.77); (ii) embodied/objectified cultural capital (i.e. 'highbrow' taste) was positively associated with general refinement, food refinement and reflexivity, whereas institutionalised cultural capital (i.e. education) was positively associated with asceticism and reflexivity; (iii) asceticism, general refinement, reflexivity, but not food refinement, were associated with a lower BMI; (iv) asceticism, general refinement and reflexivity together accounted for 52% of the association between embodied/objectified cultural capital and BMI, and 38% of the association between institutionalised cultural capital and BMI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1497-1515
Number of pages19
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Volume42
Issue number7
Early online date15 Jun 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

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