Aim. The aim of this paper is to explore the evolution of the concept of obesity and to identify variations in its meaning and use from the perspectives of healthcare professionals and Black Americans, Caucasian Americans, and Latino Americans.
Background. Obesity constitutes an emerging global healthcare epidemic. Little convergence is found between the meaning and use of the concept of obesity by healthcare professionals and those they are trying to serve. This lack of convergence points to the need for exploration of the assumptions, use and various meanings associated with this important concept.
Method. The analysis included 20 papers from 18 research studies from the fields of nursing, psychology, epidemiology, medicine, and sociology. Caron and Bowers’ dimensional analysis method guided the analysis.
Results. Eight dimensions were identified: objective measure, attractiveness, sexual desirability, health, body image, strength or goodness, self-esteem, and social acceptability. Substantial differences in assumptions, use, and meanings of this concept were found within and between the perspectives studied. However, there were insufficient data to fully assess use and meaning of the concept of obesity from the Latino American perspective.
Conclusion. This analysis contributes to the development of an understanding of the meaning and use of the concept of obesity within varied socio-cultural contexts as well as from a healthcare perspective. Culture was found to play a significant role in how obesity is understood by the individual.