Culture and Obesity
Read the article “How Culture Makes US Thin or Fat” and answer the questions below.

How Culture Makes Us Thin or Fat
Meredith F. Small
25 April 2008

The lower house of parliament in France has just passed a law to prevent thinness. My, what a cultural contrast
to the Unites States, where two-thirds of all adults are considered overweight or obese and our lawmakers are
worried about fatness, not thinness. Problem is, both cultures don't really understand the role of culture in how
their citizens look.

It starts with biology. Any culture is made up of a group of people with a shared history and some shared genes.
Today we live in a globally dynamic world where people come and go, but not long ago, humans lived in isolated
populations where people tended to look alike simply because they mated with similar looking people. Maasai
men tend to be tall because they tend to make babies with other Maasai who are also tall. Central African
pygmies are short because they make babes with other pygmies.

Selective mating, then, has produced societies where people tend to have similar features and similar body
types. But that's where genetic influences on body size end, because body weight and shape are also highly
influenced by experience, which is sometimes called "culture" or "environment." Body size is, within genetic
limits, highly flexible, with a wide range of outcomes.

Grow up in an agricultural culture and you'll probably be thin and hard-muscled because of daily physical
exertion. Live in a culture where rice is the major staple, and you'll probably be small because you never get
enough to eat. Sit around working on a computer like everyone else in your culture and guess what, no matter
how little you eat, the pudge factor kicks in.

We also know how dynamic the effect of culture can be on body shape and size when that culture alters.
Children growing up in war zones are under constant stress which stunts their development. After World War II,
kids in Japan received rations of milk for the first time and they ended up much taller than their parents because
of increased calcium and vitamin D in their diet. The introduction of television and processed food makes a new
generation of American kids much fatter.

Body size, then, is a movable feast, and it just keeps on moving. And so the French concern with making laws
that keep skinny girls out of magazines isn't going to do all that much because those models are only a tiny sliver
of culture, and not a very powerful influence. No one has been able been able to prove that young women are
deeply affected by seeing ultra-thin models; in fact, most girls know that magazine ads are computer-altered for
perfection, and that the models on the runway are just plain scary.

Obviously, in America, with our load of extra fat, those models haven't had much effect. It's easy to imagine
groups of plump teen-aged American girls sitting around, eating a pizza, maybe wishing they were thin too, but
then taking another bite. And they certainly don't need laws on the books to make them eat.

Collected Feb 20, 2013, from
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1. Summarize the main points of the article. *
2. How does this article help reveal how culture impacts us beyond just the exposure to different types of foods, languages, etc… *
3. “Culture is the biggest factor in determining in determining weight.” Do you agree or disagree, defend your answer *
4. Based off the information from the article which other cultures would you expect to have similar issues?Explain your reasoning. *
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