Advertisement

BioSocieties

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 434–452 | Cite as

Mitochondrial mothers of a fat nation: Race, gender and epigenetics in obesity research on Mexican mestizos

Original Article

Abstract

This paper explores scientific and medical discourses on genetics and epigenetics in the context of the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes among Mexican mestizos. It draws on semi-structured interviews with 9 Mexican geneticists that are currently involved in genomic population or genomic medical research linked to diabetes and/or obesity and with 10 medical staff working directly or indirectly with the child obesity clinic at Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City. It looks briefly at scientific discourses that link the very high rates of obesity among Mexican mestizos to an alleged genetic predisposition seen as part of their indigenous heritage. The paper argues that this reinforces the gendered and racialized meanings of mestizaje (mixture) and the hierarchies that this biocultural construct has historically entailed. The paper then looks in depth at the tensions in epigenetic research on obesity, analysing the narratives of the geneticists and doctors interviewed. It shows how mothers are defined as the main channel for the epigenetic modification of bodies and generations, thus intensifying women’s maternal responsibilities for the health of the nation.

Keywords

genomics epigenomics mestizaje obesity motherhood 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research is based on a two-year research project funded by the British Academy and the Newton Fellowship Award. I would like to thank Peter Wade for his invaluable comments and guidelines throughout the writing of this article. Thanks to Bridget Byrne for the help and advice offered for this and previous publications. I am grateful to the scientists, medical staff and mothers of children under treatment for obesity that shared their experiences with me and made this project possible. This manuscript is composed of original material and it is not under review elsewhere. The study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. The author does not have any competing interests – intellectual or financial – in the research detailed in the manuscript.

References

  1. Acuña-Alonzo, V., Flores-Dorantes, T. and Kruit, J.K. et al (2010) A functional ABCA1 gene variant is associated with low HDL-cholesterol levels and shows evidence of positive selection in Native Americans Human Molecular Genetics 19(14): 2877–2885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aguilar-Rodríguez, S. (2007) Cooking modernity: nutrition policies, class, and gender in 1940s and 1950s Mexico city. The Americas 64(02): 177–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Albuquerque, D., Stice, E. and Rodríguez-López, R. et al (2015) Current review of genetics of human obesity: from molecular mechanisms to an evolutionary perspective. Molecular Genetics and Genomics 290(4): 1191–1221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beaudevin, C. and Pordié, L. (2016) Diversion and globalization in biomedical technologies. Medical Anthropology 35(1): 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, K. (2002) Tangled roots? Genetics meets genealogy. Science 295(5560): 1634–1635.Google Scholar
  6. Duster, T. (2003) Backdoor to eugenics, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Dressler, W.W., Oths, K.S. and Gravlee, C.C. (2005) Race and ethnicity in public health research: models to explain health disparities. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 231–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fassin, D. (2011) Humanitarian reason: a moral history of the present. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fausto-Sterling, A. (2004) Refashioning race: DNA and the politics of health care. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15(3): 1–37.Google Scholar
  10. Fee, M. (2006) Racializing narratives: obesity, diabetes and the “Aboriginal” thrifty genotype. Social Science & Medicine 62(12): 2988–2997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Friedman, M. (2015) Mother blame, fat shame, and moral panic: “Obesity” and child welfare. Fat Studies 4(1): 14–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. García-Deister, V. and López-Beltrán, C. (2015) País de gordos/país de muertos: Obesity, death and nation in biomedical and forensic genetics in Mexico. Social Studies of Science 45(6): 797–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gibbon, S. (2013) Ancestry, temporality, and potentiality: Engaging cancer genetics in southern Brazil. Current Anthropology 54(S7): S107–S117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gibbon, S., Santos, R.V. and Sans, M. (eds.), (2011). Racial Identities, Genetic Ancestry, and Health in South America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  15. Hernández, C.G. (2001) Doña Marina (La Malinche) y la Formación de la Identidad Mexicana. Madrid: Ediciones Encuentro.Google Scholar
  16. Hernández González, C. (2002) Doña Marina, la Malinche y la Formación de la Identidad Mexicana. Madrid: Encuentro.Google Scholar
  17. Gutiérrez, J.P., Rivera-Dommarco, J., Shamah-Levy, T., Villalpando-Hernández, S., Franco. A., Cuevas-Nasu, L., Romero-Martínez, M., Hernández-Ávila, M. and Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutrición (2012) Resultados Nacionales. Cuernavaca, México: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública.Google Scholar
  18. Hinterberger, A. (2012) Investing in life, investing in difference: Nations, populations and genomes. Theory, Culture & Society 29(3): 72–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hunt, L.M. and Megyesi, M.S. (2008) Genes, race and research ethics: who’s minding the store?. Journal of Medical Ethics 34(6): 495–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. INMEGEN. (2014) Diabetes. Boletín Expresión Inmegen 19. Accessed 16 September 2015. Available from http://boletin.inmegen.gob.mx/boletin19/enaccion.html.
  21. Juengst, E.T., Settersten, R.A., Fishman, J.R. and McGowan, M.L. (2012) After the revolution? Ethical and social challenges in ‘personalized genomic medicine’. Personalized Medicine 9(4): 429–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kirkland, A. (2011) The environmental account of obesity: A case for feminist skepticism. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36(2): 463–485.Google Scholar
  23. Knight, A. (1990) Racism, revolution, and indigenismo: Mexico, 1910–1940. In The idea of race in Latin America, edited by R. Graham, 1870–1940. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  24. Knopik, V.S., Maccani, M.A., Francazio, S. and McGeary, J.E. (2012) The epigenetics of maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy and effects on child development. Development and Psychopathology 24(04): 1377–1390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kucharski, R., Maleszka, J., Foret, S., and Maleszka, R. (2008). Nutritional control of reproductive status in honey bees via DNA methylation. Science 319, 1827–1830.  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1153069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Landecker, H. and Panofsky, A. (2013). From social structure to gene regulation, and back: a critical introduction to environmental epigenetics for sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 39: 333–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lee, S.S.J., Mountain, J. and Koenig, B.A. (2001) The meanings of race in the new genomics: implications for health disparities research. Yale Journal of Health Policy Law & Ethics 1: 33–75.Google Scholar
  28. Lopez-Beltran, C., García-Deister, V. and Rios Sandoval, M. (2014). Negotiating the Mexican mestizo: On the possibility of a national genomics. In Mestizo genomics: race mixture, nation, and science in Latin America, edited by P. Wade, C. López Beltrán, E. Restrepo and R. V. Santos, 85-106. Durham NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Löwy, I. (2011) Historiography of biomedicine: “bio,” “medicine,” and in between. Isis 102(1): 116–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. MacFarlane, A.J., Strom, A. and Scott, F.W. (2009) Epigenetics: deciphering how environmental factors may modify autoimmune type 1 diabetes. Mammalian Genome 20(9): 624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Manrique, L. (2016) Dreaming of a cosmic race: José Vasconcelos and the politics of race in Mexico, 1920s–1930s. Cogent Arts & Humanities 3(1): 1218316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martínez-Cortés, G., Salazar-Flores, J., Fernández-Rodríguez, L.G., Rubi-Castellanos, R., Rodríguez-Loya, C. and Velarde-Félix, J.S. et al (2015) Admixture and population structure in Mexican-Mestizos based on paternal lineages. Journal of Human Genetics 57(9): 568–574.Google Scholar
  33. Martínez, A. (2015) Epigenética y nutrición: relaciones con la obesidad. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutrición 65(Suplemento 1): 12.Google Scholar
  34. McPhail, D., Bombak, A., Ward, P. and Allison, J. (2016) Wombs at risk, wombs as risk: Fat women’s experiences of reproductive care. Fat Studies 5(2): 98–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meloni, M. (2017) Race in an epigenetic time: thinking biology in the plural. British Journal of Sociology.  https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12248.Google Scholar
  36. Montoya, M. (2011) Making the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Genetics of Inequality. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moreno Figueroa, M.G. (2010) Distributed intensities: Whiteness, mestizaje and the logics of Mexican racism. Ethnicities 10(3): 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreno Figueroa, M.G. (2013) Displaced looks: The lived experience of beauty and racism. Feminist Theory 14(2): 137–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Morgan, L.M. and Roberts, E.F. (2012) Reproductive governance in latin america. Anthropology & Medicine 19(2): 241–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Neel, J.V. (1962) Diabetes mellitus: a “thrifty” genotype rendered detrimental by “progress”? American Journal of Human Genetics 14(4): 353.Google Scholar
  41. Nelson, A. (2008) The factness of diaspora: the social sources of genetic genealogy. In: B.A. Koenig, S.S.J. Lee and S.S. Richardson (eds.), Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, pp. 253–268.Google Scholar
  42. Oberlander, T.F., Weinberg, J., Papsdorf, M., Grunau, R., Misri, S. and Devlin, A.M. (2008) Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics 3(2): 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Oikkonen, V. (2015) Mitochondrial eve and the affective politics of human ancestry: winner of the 2015 catharine stimpson prize for outstanding feminist scholarship. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 40(3): 747–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Olivares, A.E. (2012) Los Mexicanos tienen predisposición genética a la obesidad, según estudio. La Jornada, 2 August, p. A15. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/08/02/ciencias/a15n1cie.
  45. Paradies, Y., Montoya M.J. and Fullerton S.M. (2007) Racialized genetics and the study of complex diseases: the thrifty genotype revisited. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 50(2): 203–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Paz, O. (1985) The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  47. Phelan, J.C., Link, B.G. and Feldman, N.M. (2013) The genomic revolution and beliefs about essential racial differences a backdoor to eugenics? American Sociological Review 78(2): 167–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Prainsack, B., Reardon, J., Hindmarsh, R., Gottweis, H., Naue, U. and Lunshof, J.E. (2008). Personal genomes: misdirected precaution. Nature 456(7218): 34–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ramírez, S. (1977) El Mexicano, Psicología de Sus Motivaciones, 4th en. Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo.Google Scholar
  50. Richardson, S. (2015) Maternal Bodies in the Postgenomic Order. In: S.S. Richardson and H. Stevens (eds.), Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 201–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Richardson, S.S. and Stevens, H. (eds.). (2015). Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome. Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Richardson, S.S. (2012) Sexing the X: How the X Became the “Female Chromosome”. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37(4): 909–933.Google Scholar
  53. Rivera Dommarco, J.Á., Hernández-Ávila, M., Aguilar-Salinas, C.A., Vadillo-Ortega, F. and Murayama-Rendón, C. (2012) Obesidad en México: Recomendaciones Para una Política de Estado. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.Google Scholar
  54. Romero, R.J. (2005) Foundational motherhood: Malinche/Guadalupe in contemporary Mexican and Chicana/Chicano Culture. In: R. Romero and A. N. Harris (eds.), Feminism, Nation and Myth: La Malinche. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, pp. 28–43.Google Scholar
  55. Rotimi, C.N. (2003) Genetic ancestry tracing and the African Identity: A double edged sword?. Developing World Bioethics 3(2): 151–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rothstein, M.A., Cai, Y. and Marchant, G.E. (2009) The ghost in our genes: legal and ethical implications of epigenetics. Health matrix (Cleveland, Ohio: 1991) 19(1): 1.Google Scholar
  57. Rtveladze, K., Marsh, T., Barquera, S., Romero, L.M.S., Levy, D. and Melendez, G. (2014) Obesity prevalence in Mexico: impact on health and economic burden. Public Health Nutrition 17(1): 233–239.Google Scholar
  58. Ruiz, A. (2001) La india bonita: nación, raza y género en el México revolucionario. Debate Feminista 24(12): 142–162.Google Scholar
  59. Saldaña-Tejeda, A. (2012) “Why should I not take an apple or a fruit if I wash their underwear?” Food, Social Classification and Paid Domestic Work in Mexico. Journal of Intercultural Studies 33(2): 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Secretaría de Salud. (2013) Estrategia Nacional Para la Prevención y el Control del Sobrepeso, la Obesidad y la Diabetes. Mexico City: Secretaría de Salud.Google Scholar
  61. Schell, P.A. (2010). Eugenics policy and practice in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. The Oxford handbook of the history of eugenics, pp. 477–492.Google Scholar
  62. Schencman, P. (2010) ¿Génesis de un problema sanitario? Representaciones de la biomedicina en torno de la obesidad en Viva Cien Años 1934–1945. Eä Journal 2(2): 32.Google Scholar
  63. Shiao, J.L., Bode, T., Beyer, A. and Selvig, D. (2012) The genomic challenge to the social construction of race. Sociological Theory 30(2): 67–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shields, A.E., Fortun, M., Hammonds, E.M., King, P.A., Lerman, C., Rapp, R. and Sullivan, P.F. (2005) The use of race variables in genetic studies of complex traits and the goal of reducing health disparities: a transdisciplinary perspective. American Psychologist 60(1): 77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. SIGMA Type 2 Diabetes Consortium. (2014) Sequence variants in SLC16A11 are a common risk factor for type 2 diabetes in Mexico. Nature 506(7486): 97–101.Google Scholar
  66. Smedley, A. and Smedley, B.D. (2005) Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race. American Psychologist 60(1): 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Soubry, A., Schildkraut, J.M., Murtha, A., Wang, F., Huang, Z. and Bernal, A. (2013) Paternal obesity is associated with IGF2 hypomethylation in newborns: results from a Newborn Epigenetics Study (NEST) cohort. BMC Medicine 11(1): 29.Google Scholar
  68. Speakman, J.R. (2006) Thrifty genes for obesity and the metabolic syndrome—time to call off the search? Diabetes and Vascular Disease Research 3(1): 7–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Steinberg, D.L. (2016) Genes and the Bioimaginary: Science, Spectacle, Culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  70. Stepan, N. (1991) The Hour of Eugenics”: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Stern, A.M. (1999) Responsible mothers and normal children: eugenics, nationalism, and welfare in Post-revolutionary Mexico, 1920–1940. Journal of historical sociology 12(4): 369–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Szyf, M., McGowan, P. and Meaney, M.J. (2008) The social environment and the epigenome. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 49(1): 46–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. TallBear, K. (2013) Native American DNA: Tribal belonging and the false promise of genetic science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tanner, C., Petersen, A. and Fraser, S. (2014) Food, fat and family: Thinking fathers through mothers’ words. In: Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 44). New York: Pergamon, pp. 209–219.Google Scholar
  75. Turda, M. and Gillette, A. (2016) Latin Eugenics in Comparative Perspective. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  76. Valdez, N. (2016) Weighting the Future: an ethnographic examination of epigenetics and prenatal interventions. PhD thesis, Anthropology, University of California, Irvine.Google Scholar
  77. Vargas Domínguez, J. (2017) Metabolismo y nutrición en el México posrevolucionario: eugenesia y clasificación de la población mexicana entre 1927 y 1943. PhD Thesis, Philosophy of Science, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad de México.Google Scholar
  78. Vigarello, G. (2009) Historia de la belleza: el cuerpo y el arte de embellecer desde el Renacimiento hasta nuestros días. Nueva Visión.Google Scholar
  79. Villares, A.M. and del Moral, A.M. (2008) Influencia del ambiente y la alimentación en la programación epigenética de la obesidad. Revista Española de Obesidad.Google Scholar
  80. Wade, L. (2013) Initiative aims to minister to Mexico’s unique genetic heritage. Science 342(6160): 788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wade, P. (2004) Images of Latin American mestizaje and the politics of comparison. Bulletin of Latin American Research 23(3): 355–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wade, P. (2005) Rethinking mestizaje: Ideology and lived experience. Journal of Latin American Studies 37(2): 239–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wade, P. (2013) Racismo, democracia racial, mestizaje y relaciones de sexo/género. Tabula Rasa 18: 45–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Waggoner, M.R. and Uller, T. (2015) Epigenetic determinism in science and society. New Genetics and Society 34(2): 177–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wang, V.O. and Sue, S. (2005) In the eye of the storm: race and genomics in research and practice. American Psychologist 60(1): 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Warin, M., Zivkovic, T., Moore, V. and Davies, M. (2012) Mothers as smoking guns: Fetal overnutrition and the reproduction of obesity. Feminism & Psychology 22(3): 360–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wolf, J.B. (2010) Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood. New York: NYU Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Yajnik, C.S. (2014) Transmission of obesity-adiposity and related disorders from the mother to the baby. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 64(Suppl. 1): 8–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Yates-Doerr, E. (2015) The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Yehuda R., Daskalakis N.P., Bierer L.M., Bader H.N., Klengel T., Holsboer F. and Binder E.B. (2016) Holocaust exposure induced intergenerational effects on FKBP5. Biological Psychiatry 80: 372–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de FilosofíaUniversidad de GuanajuatoGuanajuatoMexico

Personalised recommendations