A recent study evaluated the disgrace that people of different regions and educational backgrounds face because of their obesity. Some earlier studies, which were limited to certain geographical areas, had shown that, in recent times, being very fat is considered a stigma. Many people believe that obesity is a sign of laziness and social irresponsibility. This study was conducted to know what people of different cultures felt about fat people. “Results suggest a profound global diffusion of negative ideas about obesity.”
During the eighth and ninth decades of the 20th century, it was a social belief that fat bodies or fat people were beautiful, extra fertile and being in a higher social class. In fact, many of the respondents of studies at that time expressed that they wanted to marry obese persons. Over the last few decades, however, considering slim bodies as ideal has become the trend. Now, many people feel that obesity is a diseased state and also ugly. As a result, almost everyone prefers to have a slim frame, as a slim body is considered healthy. This study was carried out to find out the cultural and regional differences in the feeling of disgrace regarding fatness. In addition, the study also wanted to assess whether educational status had any influence on these beliefs.
- The study, which included 680 adults, was conducted in American Samoa, Pago Pago, Tanzania, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, London, Buenos Aires, and Arizona.
- All the participants were given questionnaires with 83 ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type of questions, to know their feelings about obesity/obese people. Out of these, 25 statements were considered to assess their feeling of disgrace regarding obesity (average fat stigma score).
- The participants’ body weight and their educational background were noted.
- “Average fat stigma scores ranged from a low of 10.4 for Tanzania to a high of 15.0 for Paraguay, out of a possible total of 25.” This indicates that there is an association of disgrace regarding obesity in every location where the study was conducted. Regional differences were, however, noted.
- Women hated obesity much more than men did.
- Participants with higher educational qualifications had lower scores; that is less than 10.
- Participants from American Samoa, Mexico, and Paraguay associated obesity with laziness. Tanzania had one of the best fat-neutral cultural models, but it was one state where the majority of participants answered that obesity was associated with health problems.
Only a few geographical areas were included in the present study, and there was no representation from Asia. The sample size was also somewhat low. Moreover, most of the participants were college students aged over 18 and living in urban areas. More ethnographically detailed studies are required to get region-specific results. The findings of this study cannot be extrapolated to the entire world.
This study has convincingly shown that there is a changing trend with respect to body weight across the globe. Fatness, which was earlier considered a matter of pride and wealth, has now become a matter of disgrace. People across countries and cultures want to become slim. People with a higher educational status had a lower fat stigma score. This is probably because such people want to be polite and politically correct, and hence avoided hate opinions regarding fatness, even if they felt it was bad. “In summary, these analyses suggest that norms about fat-as-bad and fat-as-unhealthy are spreading globally and that cultural diversity in conceptions of ideal or acceptable body size appears to be on the decline.”
For More Information:
Body Norms and Fat Stigma in Global Perspective
Publication Journal: Current Anthropology, April 2011
By Alexandra A Brewis; Amber Wutich
From the Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.