Issues of Health and Society: Weighing In (Obesity)

Who Created the Course?

Jacob P. Harney, Ph.D. Co-developer of curriculum, coinstructor (attended SSI 2004, 2005).

Jacob P. Harney's Profile Page

Marissa Cloutier, MS, RD. Co-developer of the curriculum and co-instructor (attended SSI 2005).

Additional University of Hartford Faculty Contributors:

Mala Matacin, Ph.D (attended SSI 2005)
Betsey Smith, Ph.D. (attended SSI 2005)
Catherine Certo, Ph.D.


A 1999 study determined that 65% of US adults were overweight or obese and that childhood obesity has tripled in the last two decades. Apart from the impact on public health, the economic cost of this problem is enormous, with $117 billion lost through increased medical costs, diminished employee productivity, absenteeism, and loss of income.

Issues of Health and Society: Weighing In is a laboratory course that meets the general education science requirement for all non-majors. It teaches "through" obesity to the basic biochemistry of food (calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, macro, and micronutrients) and the biology of energy metabolism (intake, storage, endocrinology, digestion, metabolic expenditure). Physiology (exercise, body mass, anthropometrics), and mathematics (percentages, conversion rates, statistics) are also covered, as are psychology (body image, behavior, eating disorders), sociology (stigma, consumer choices and marketing), and political science (government policies and food industry practices), so that students connect the science to cultural, economic and, social cultural factors that lead to obesity and overweight.

In addition to laboratory and writing assignments, students engage in a semester-long "Make a Difference" project, which is a collaboration between the University of Hartford (UH) and its magnet school. UH students collect detailed health data, including body mass index, blood pressure, and heart rate from the magnet school students, who then keep detailed diaries on all food intake and all physical activity for 4 days. UH students analyze their findings and present them to the children and their families at the end of the semester, along with recommendations about nutrition, exercise, and other behavioral modifications that will combat obesity and lower the risk of type II diabetes.

Course Goals

This course will evaluate the physiological, psychological and social causes and consequences of obesity in children and adults. At the end of this course students will be able to:

1) Predict the impact of specific changes in micro and macro-nutrient intake on BMI–basic digestion, absorption, cellular respiration, anabolism

2) Calculate and analyze nutrient composition of foods.

3) Formulate diets and exercise programs that will result in net energy expenditure and net energy storage.

4) Analyze how obesity impacts ones ability to function in daily activities, i.e., work, leisure and activities of daily living

5) Interpret the difference between being fit and being fat.

6) Critically analyze the different modes of treatment: diet, drugs, surgery and behavioral therapy.

7) Evaluate the influence of nutrition and weight management in health promotion and disease prevention (such as diabetes and heart disease)

8) Analyze the cost of obesity-related disease treatment to the cost of healthcare.

9) Analyze the obesity industry (diets, exercise programs, drugs) with regard to local, national and international economies.

10) Critique the social and psychological consequences of obesity myths.

11) Critique their own reactions to obese people based on sexism and socially constructed ideas.

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