America’s obsession with freedom makes men fat: study

American cultural norms could make us fat.

A new study has looked at the effects of societal traits on obesity rates – and found that countries that value individualism have higher body mass indices among men.

Published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, the study looked at data from 51 countries to find out why there is so much variation in global obesity rates.

Although economic prosperity is an important factor – with wealthier countries having better access to food and lower levels of physical activity – it does not explain why some less developed countries have high levels of obesity ( Egypt, Jordan, Mexico) and other more developed ones. not (Japan, South Korea, Singapore).

The study found that the latter countries were more “flexible”. In other words, they prioritize thrift, discipline, self-control, and delayed gratification — all behaviors that can help with weight control. They were also slimmer in all areas.

Male obesity rates are higher in countries like the United States, which value individualism.
Getty Images

Meanwhile, countries that valued individualism — like the United States and those in northwest Europe, as well as some in Latin America — are more stubborn about independence and personal choice. The men in these countries tended to be heavier built, although this was surprisingly not a factor when it came to women.

While the study acknowledges that genetics and diet — particularly the fatty, processed and sugary foods that Americans love — contribute to obesity, it found national culture also played an underappreciated role.

The findings resonated with Dr. George Fielding, bariatric surgeon and professor of surgery at New York University.

“I’m not trying to be rude, but fat is the new norm here,” Fielding told The Post.

“Culturally, it’s good to be considered big. Britain and Australia are the same. Most people who make national health policies aim for people to eat less and exercise more, rather than watching the [societal] health care costs and premature death.

In 2020, the prevalence of adult obesity was 41.9% in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity – one of the leading causes of death worldwide – is linked to a myriad of life-shortening diseases, including type 2 diabetes, numerous cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Rows of donuts
While the study acknowledges that genetics and diet — particularly the fatty, processed and sugary foods that Americans love — contribute to obesity, it found national culture also played an underappreciated role.
Getty Images/EyeEm

“On the other hand, in Asian countries there is a belief in conforming to restraint, which is not inherent in American culture,” Fielding said. “There are rules, and you’re supposed to follow the rules.”

As for the difference between male and female obesity rates in “individualistic” countries, the surgeon said he sees the dynamic playing out in his own practice – where women outnumber men for bariatric surgery 3 against 1.

“Men in particular think, ‘I’m an individual, don’t tell me what to do. I’m going to eat whatever I want,'” said Fielding, who notes that surgery should be considered once a woman’s BMI is person reaches 40.

He said female patients request interventions because they feel bad, while his male patients are motivated to lose weight once they get sick from diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. .

Fielding, who called obesity a “national disaster,” added that other societal factors play a role in our collective weight issues.

“Fewer and fewer jobs require physical effort, and you no longer have to work hard to get food,” he said. “We have loads of processed foods and we’re bombarded with ads for it. It all plays a big role.

As for turning the tide, Fielding said it was an uphill battle: “How do you institute a national policy in a country where you can’t tell anyone?”

But he said recognizing America’s obesity problem – now prohibited in polite society – would help.

“It’s the new normal, and how dare you be mean to the new normal?” Fielding said. “People there who are fat, they think it’s like that now.”

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