Friday, 23 April 2010

Cultural weight management

Lesley had an amended version of her heartfelt post on what it means to be a fat child trying not to be. Someone called Paul commented civilly I think with some intelligence on what he felt were the implications of all this. Although somewhat skewered on his own logic.

If that's many people are fat just because they are, I don’t think that the trans-cultural comparison really bears that out. The rate of obesity IS higher in the US, as well as some other cultures (Samoa, for example). It is the 25th comment, near the bottom at the moment. I tried to answer it relatively briefly, but I feel it merits a better more fleshed out answer than I gave.

He makes some worthwhile points that boil down to; the differences in weights, say average or median weights amongst countries/ societies, suggests that people cannot be "just fat", otherwise we would all be more or less equally fat.

He used Sweden and Japan as examples. That when an argument sounds like people will be fat regardless, people are going to tune out to that message, because of the above. He also said something really apt; And it’s not because they’re all starving themselves over there. (How true).

I cannot unfortunately remember which specific Scandinavian country it was, but in the mid to late 70's a group of doctors approached their prime minister of the time and told him that the rate of fatness was spiking and would continue if nothing was done. Action was taken, which came down to shifting around the food culture of that country to the extent of removing heavily processed foodstuffs from prominence, substituting them with the kind of things you find in health food stores. 

The former were made less accessible in a relatively short space of time. I think also that sporting and physical activity may have been kept as a priority, in schools and encouraged in out of school hours.

At this time a lot of countries began to squeeze out sports ed from schools and in the UK a lot of civic sports facilities-a lot of which were popular and well used- were closed. This could be done because of the less individualistic traditions of those countries. To the point that would probably not be seen as acceptable in the UK and US.

As I understand it, all this mighty effort did was not reverse the amount of fatness or even to stop it's growth, but to slow it. That's right, fatness still increased, it just didn't increase at the rate it might have done otherwise, certainly in comparison to the UK and the US, which had differing policies to say the least.

As far as I know, no country in the world has managed to reverse or halt the growth of fatness in their nations. Some have managed to slow it, either because of the timing of interventions and/or cultural differences acted as a bit of an obstacle. The two often go together.

It's also important to note that the Japanese tend to be thinner overall as a nation than most other non-eastern countries. Many people say that's genetic and it seems to be in part, as with other Asian countries such in the Indian subcontinent. So it could be said that eventually all countries could catch up to the rates of the fatter nations. Unless ways are found to reverse weight.

Culture that is more collective cannot be replicated by that which is more individualistic. So it's pointless to cite one as discounting the results of the other. 

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