Introduction: While the relationships among socio-economic status (SES) and obesity are powerful and synergistic, the SES construct is insufficient to describe some of the cultural influences on status production in society, and therefore on obesity production. Socio-economic status has two closely related dimensions. The economic one is represented by financial wealth while the social one can incorporate education, occupational prestige, authority and community standing. These are, however, incomplete explanations for the relationships between societal inequalities and obesity.
Discussion: Cultural factors associated with SES and obesity are examined here by using Bourdieu and Boltanski's theory of practice, which links economic, social and cultural forms of capital (or value) in an overarching category of symbolic capital. These represent categories through which power relationships within society are negotiated. This construct permits a more complete examination of societal stratification and its human biological consequences and amplifiers, since it incorporates the notion of cultural value in different groups of, for example, preferences in body size and shape. The focus is primarily on the USA, although it draws on literature from elsewhere in the industrialized world where appropriate. Differences in obesity rates across major ethnic groups are discussed, because this is an area in which forms of capital differ, and may offer new insights into obesity and factors that predispose to it, as forms of symbolic capital.