Culture Bound Syndromes are often the folk illnesses of medicine. The term is brought about due to anthropologists not having distinct answers as to why symptoms occur in a person, and why they only see signs of the “disease” in certain parts of the world. When culture bound syndromes (CBS) were found and labeled, many of the people labeling these CBSs were Westerners, and soon it was clear that although the rest of the world had CBSs, the US was clear of them. This ethnocentric mind set was clearly inaccurate and the establishment of CBSs in the US became more prevalent. Although there are a few to chose from, obesity seemed like an interesting topic to research.
In the article by Ritenbaugh, the coming of CBSs was explained as follows: “As biological information has increased, so has the number of discrete biomedical diseases….Thus when anthropologist studying other cultures has found syndromes or symptom constellations not readily understood in biomedical terms, they have termed these syndromes folk illnesses in contrast to ‘real’ biomedical diseases.” (Ritenbaugh)
Obesity is clearly not a condition that is solely found in the United States, nor is it unknown as to why it occurs or how to deal with it. Hence, it is perhaps not a stereotypical CBS. However, it is the way in which the Western cultures refer to it and handle it that make it such a problem. In the United States ideal body image is a well driven point that is emphasized in every TV show, magazine article, store display, etc… Being too thin or too “fat” warrants being judged and ridiculed by peers. The pressures of being obese can create other health problems such as depression that low self esteem that further promote the problem or effect the person in even more unhealthy ways. However, we, as a country, are also quite obese overall from a health stand point. So yes, part of the problem is the pressures that we put on each other from a social stand point, however, many other parts of the problem include poor diet and lack of exercise which encourages an unhealthy life style. The two factors together create an environment that is unlike any other found throughout the world. Thus, obesity is considered a CBS.
Lastly, the US has many ways in which to deal with the CBS. There is an entire industry focused on diet pills, weight loss supplements, work out videos, gyms, “magic pills”, surgeries both invasive and non invasive, and lastly careers are even being created in order to help those in need of attention. There are more diabetes specialists, nutritionists, personal trainers, and dietitians than ever before due to the poor life style and inability for people to control their own diets and exercise routines. The syndrome, disease, problem (whatever one would like to refer to it as) is changing the culture of the US.
C. Ritenbaugh, Obesity as a Culture-bound Syndrome. Cult Med Psychiatry, 1982. 347-64. http://link.springer.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF00118882.pdf.