Obesity in America

The culture bound syndrome I chose to research is obesity in the United States. The article I read stated that nearly two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. The occurrence of obesity in the United States has more than doubled in only 40 years. The article discusses some biological reasons for this epidemic. For instance, our ancestors were once hunters and gatherers, many years ago. They suffered through famines, where they had to go periods of time without food. Natural selection allowed them to store the nutrients they consumed during times of feast as adipose tissue. These fats were then used as fuel by the body in times of famine. In present day, however, many of us do not suffer long periods of time without food. Therefore, this adipose tissue is not used up, and instead accumulates in our bodies, causing overweightness and eventually obesity.

Why, though, is this problem so prevalent in America compared to so many other countries in the world? A lot of this is also cultural. The average American is far less physically active then they should be. This is because we focus so much on work and materialistic things, and don’t think enough about our health. Why take the time to make a nice healthy meal, when you can go through the drive-through so much faster (and much cheaper)? That is just how many Americans think. Also, the individual American tends to eat in very large portions. We also don’t usually walk to where we need to be, but instead drive almost everywhere. Everything is very spread out, usually with no accessible sidewalks, and it is considered dangerous in today’s day to walk down the street alone. Therefore, the average American is not physically active. When an individual goes on a “diet”, it is often unsuccessful, because it is the lifestyle that is the real problem. To treat this problem, one must therefore change their lifestyle. One must become physically active on a daily basis, and choose healthier food options.

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  1. Pamela Perez says:

    Culture, in my opinion, is a combination of lifestyle, environment, ethnic practices, individuality, genetics, and a bunch of other things. I cannot give a definite answer to what culture is because to me, it includes a bunch of different other factors. I think that Obesity, therefore, is not necessarily a culture bound syndrome, but an individual decision if anything. Not in the aspect that a person decides whether or not they want to be fat, because no one ever wishes that, but it is based on the decision one makes in life. However, even that is a bit shady to me. Obesity could be the cause of circumstance and that we as Americans are obese is both false and true. You mentioned things like materialism, and how Americans don’t usually walk places, but that is definitely not something one can say all American do. Again, it depends on where we choose to live and the resources we may or may not have available to us. Take New York for example. You can walk practically anywhere in the city and around the boroughs, and an insanely large amount of different resources are available. You’ve got fruit markets spread out everywhere and a combination of both transportation by vehicle and trains as well as walking, cycling, or anything else. Yet, we have one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. That is why I think that how we see ourselves as individual’s influences how we feed ourselves and the decisions we make on a daily basis. Not only those, but to understand within ourselves whether we eat, exercise, or remain healthy/fit for ourselves or to maintain and please societal expectations.

    Advantages that may exist if we were to call it a CBS would be a little more personal than biological. Telling the obese person that it isn’t there fault entirely and giving it some kind of medical term, eases people’s thoughts sometimes. Something like a placebo effect, in a way (if that makes sense) or how long enough and loud enough, people have a tendency of believing things. The disadvantage would present itself when the person does not see results or becomes depressed and worsens his/her case. The advantage of NOT calling it a CBS leaves it up to the individual and in my opinion, brings people back to reality. Though there are a gazillion factors that contribute to weight distributions (society, politics, ethnic food trends, etc…) the individuals will power and personal views should be the most important one. I cannot see any disadvantage in NOT calling it a CBS in this case.

    In a different ethnomedical system/culture, obesity may be damned or blamed entirely on the individuals “gluttonous ways.” In other cultures, it may be seen as a sign of a person being healthy. Think about it within our own history too! Back in the days, the fatter you were, the more money and power you had. You were deemed truly “healthy” compared to others while the skinny were malnutrition. Now, it’s the opposite. Fat/Obese means unhealthy and skinny means truly healthy. This shows how the different aspects that make up ‘culture’ are so unique for the given fact that it is indeed subject to change no matter who we are, where we live or how we live.

    (Check out this article. Some interesting things are said here)
    -Caprio, Sonia, Stephen Daniels, Adam Drewnowski, Francine Kaufman, Lawrence Palinkas, Arlan Rosenbloom, and Jeffrey Schwimmer. “QUESTION 1: What are the prevalence, severity, and consequences of childhood obesity across race/ethnicityin the U.S.?.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2571048/ (accessed July 19, 2014).

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