W3 Activity: Obesity as a Culture Bound Syndrome in the US

In the article “Obesity as a Culture Bound Syndrome” written by Cheryl Ritenbaugh, a culture bound syndrome is defined and applied to mild to moderate obesity in the United States. Ritenbaugh defines a culture bound syndrome as a dysfunction or disease that is categorized by one or more of four classifying statements. The article continues to discuss how obesity in the United States fits the definition of a culture bound syndrome.

Biologically obesity leads to many other health concerns such as hypertension, and heart conditions. Culturally in the United States obesity is the opposite image of beauty, celebrities and models portray the body image of being very skinny and fit. This cultural perception of body image leads to other disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Individually people within the United States see slim and fit celebrities all over media and are lead to believe that is what they should look like.

All of this cultural exposure to very fit and skinny celebrities causes people to believe they are obese at even an only moderate level of extra weight. Mild to moderate obesity as described in the article is what Rittenbaugh considers a culture bound syndrome. Mild to moderate obesity can be treated by dieting after recognition in the popular sector of medicine. In the folk sector obesity may be treated with various herbal supplements believed to increase metabolism or burn off extra fat stores. Lastly in the professional sector treatments may range from surgeries to remove excess fat stores to psychological counseling if the obesity is on the mild end and the patient believes there is a larger problem when there is not. The evaluation of obesity clinically is usually determined by an elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) from that of a healthy range determined by medical doctors. An elevated BMI may only be minor, meaning an individual is only slightly overweight, or it may be major, meaning that the individual is morbidly obese, or any range between.


Ritenbaugh, Cheryl. “Obesity as a Culture-bound Syndrome.” Cult Med Psych Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry: 347-61.

One thought on “W3 Activity: Obesity as a Culture Bound Syndrome in the US

  1. Based off of my learning from class, I would define culture as being as an organization that bonds over sharing the same beliefs, social norms, behaviors that are used by all the individuals within. As for obesity in the United States, I do think this should be considered a culture-bound syndrome. Based off of my definition stated earlier, us Americans have very similar social norms, beliefs, etc. that have led us to become obese. Although, obesity has not been significantly linked to our genetics, obesity is still a syndrome that is profoundly linked to being American. Until our culture as a whole is willing to change, the prevalence of obesity will continue to rise.

    I think in other cultures this issue would be categorized as a societal issue rather than a culture bound syndrome. And, quite frankly I wouldn’t blame them. The advantage of classifying obesity in America as a culture bound syndrome would be to raise awareness to this issue. The fact that obesity and America would forever go hand-in-hand and that would definitely raise some red flags on the issue. The disadvantage to classifying obesity in America as a CBS would be allowing people to think that their poor health actions and diet can be summed up to a syndrome.

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