The anglosphere of fatties

The Anglophone countries often cluster together on various measures of national greatness or depravity – such as household savings (we haven’t been doing much of it – until recently). But it’s quite dramatic how much worse we’re doing on obesity than anyone else.

And boy do those Americans have a track record in obesity.

Figures from this OECD Study.

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19 Responses to The anglosphere of fatties

  1. Paul Frijters says:

    yes, its a fascinating trend. Its one of the research areas I write on and its interesting to see how little discussion there is of this Anglo-saxon dimension. Particularly American researchers seem almost desparate to blame unlikely suspects, such as the low price of food or the sedentary nature of work, which are not remotely Anglo-specific. The interesting thing is always that if you raise the counter-examples of Japan and nordic countries with equally cheap food and a largely indoor-lifestyle, there is always some special reason allowing a dismissal. The gene-based explanations are even more ridiculous.

    If you are interested in this sort of thing, there is a similar kind of Anglo-exceptionalism around teenage pregnancy. I suspect also with binge drinking and attitudes towards nudity. And, exactly similar to obesity, a great effort in the research literature coming from Anglo-countries to claim it is due to something it cant be due to.

  2. Tel says:

    In Japan, if you are too fat they fine you. Of course, the government can’t actually fine individuals for being overweight (that would be an outrageous overreach of authority) so they just fine whoever you happen to work for. You boss probably won’t appreciate the fine, so he says, “Hey lardarse, your new office is that traffic island over there. We’ve decided to cut your pay to zero in the hope that the starvation thins you out a bit, it’s for your own good.”

    Ahhh government, is there anything they can’t fix?

  3. perplexed says:

    English speaking nations appear prominent in the measured reporting and by some quite decisive margin over near neighbours. This suggests to me that self-reporting has a possibly large capacity for under estimating obesity.
    My regular visits to supermarkets have me thinking that a majority of women over men are ‘packing it’. But in case this sounds misogynist, I can’t see any obvious support for this in the figures for males and females. South Africa and Chile look like an anomaly.

  4. Interesting topic. My wife is a psychologist and always reminds me that economists are stupid for only just ‘discovering’ what psychologists discovered half a century ago (or more). I can imagine here response – “What, economists think that culture doesn’t matter?”

    Paul, don’t fob off those American researchers – clearly there are no sedentary jobs or cheap foods in Korea.

    My personal experience is that there are serious differences between Anglo culture, and Asian or European culture – queueing, wearing suits and ties, daily routines (siesta), drinking habits (binging), eating habits (small late dinners and big lunches), nudity (yep, very observant Paul), parenting (spoiling kids, competitive birthday parties etc), schooling (single sex, v technical, v years of schooling etc), punctuality, and so on. Added together, you can expect quite different outcomes on many indirect metrics of health, academic performance, economic growth etc.

    I always wonder why US ‘fat researchers’ don’t simply go and observe people in countries that are ‘skinny’ and note the habits that are typically different. Or just ask? After all, when contestant go on reality fat-loss television shows, they simply change their daily habits – they don’t change their genes or the price of food.

  5. fxh says:

    Chile, Mexico, Canada and USA have a lot of people whose first language isn’t English or who aren’t that Anglo.

    Most of us of Irish background don’t take all that kindly to be labeled Anglo either.

  6. Patrick says:

    that’s nice fxh but here’s a secret: no-one cares. And I say that as a celt.

  7. Yobbo says:

    I’m surprised that Chile and Mexico have so many fat chicks, but it might be a racial thing.

    Also surprising that Sweden and Norway are so low, given that they are relatively rich.

  8. Yobbo says:

    My regular visits to supermarkets have me thinking that a majority of women over men are ‘packing it’. But in case this sounds misogynist, I can’t see any obvious support for this in the figures for males and females.

    One explanation is that fat blokes don’t live very long. Another explanation is that supermarkets are full of women.

  9. Peter Whiteford says:

    Anecdote alert: I once worked in Europe with a tall skinny Canadian in his 60s who was one of four brothers. He said that one of his brothers lived elsewhere in Europe, and the two others in Canada and the USA respectively. He said that the two who lived in North America were each more than 20 Kg heavier than the two who lived in Europe. He put this down to lifestyle – differences in driving vs walking/cycling and in food habits/intake.

  10. conrad says:

    “The interesting thing is always that if you raise the counter-examples of Japan and nordic countries with equally cheap food and a largely indoor-lifestyle, there is always some special reason allowing a dismissal.”

    There’s another comment which I can never quite understand either, which is that people have an equilibrium weight that they tend to fall into and that this is very hard to change. However, if you look at the research, most people don’t suddenly get fat, but put on smallish amounts over many years. So where is the equilibrium?

  11. Jarra says:

    In Japan, if you are too fat they fine you. Of course, the government can’t actually fine individuals for being overweight (that would be an outrageous overreach of authority) so they just fine whoever you happen to work for. You boss probably won’t appreciate the fine, so he says, “Hey lardarse, your new office is that traffic island over there. We’ve decided to cut your pay to zero in the hope that the starvation thins you out a bit, it’s for your own good.”

    Ahhh government, is there anything they can’t fix?

    No they don’t. There’s a law in Japan called something like the ‘Metabolic Syndrome Checkup Law’ that requires local governments to offer health checks for people over 44 or something. No fines and the check ups are not compulsory. Although there was a rumor a few years ago of fines, it never happened.

    Searching about this in Japanese, most articles are actually about insurers in America who have started implementing fines….

    Ahh greedy companies, is there anything they can’t fix?

    Also too add my two cents, I think Anglo-Saxon countries are fat because of gross over consumption of sugary (/ fake sweetenery) drinks. Cut all that Coke Pepsi and energy drinks out and you’ll be a long way to fixing health problems. I dropped 10 kilos moving to Japan and stopping drinking energy drinks and that other sugary crap. Cut out all the sugary breakfasts we love and you’d be even further. Could also add that we smoke much less than others so probably eat more :)

  12. Paul Frijters says:

    peter,

    yes, that’s exactly the kind of non-explanation you often hear. Somewhat akin to a doctor who says the cause of someone’s death is ‘stopped breathing’, will people ‘explain’ getting fat by saying it due to eating too much and doing too little. Its is as true as it is uninformative.

  13. Peter Whiteford says:

    Paul – yes but lifestyle differences associated with different cultural patterns seem to me to be at least a partial explanation.

  14. Blair says:

    From my experience of spending a reasonable amount of time in both countries, Norway and Switzerland both have very outdoors-oriented lifestyles (despite their climates): the crowds on the cross-country ski trails of Oslo on a minus-20-something February Sunday morning last year would have done justice to an Australian beach in mid-summer, ditto high mountain walking tracks in the Swiss Alps in summer. (Sometimes people fall off these mountains – the ‘mountains toll’ seems to occupy a similar space in the Swiss media in summer to that which the road toll fills in Victoria, and seems to tick over at a fairly similar rate).

    The transport mix and car dependence for everyday urban transport wouldn’t be too different to that which is typical of most northern European countries, although Switzerland has an unusually high level of public transport use for intercity transport – my guess is (a) because the intercity train services are so frequent and (b) the price of an annual pass for the entire Swiss public transport system is such that it’s worthwhile for many city commuters to get one, which then means they effectively have free intercity transport on weekends and holidays.

    I’m struggling to recall seeing a genuinely fat person in either country.

    Something I’ve seen somewhere (but have forgotten the source) was a report of a study which suggested that obesity rates were high in populations which had been poor enough recently enough for widespread hunger to be part of living memory for at least the older generation – that might explain the high ranking of rapidly-developing middle-income countries like Mexico and Chile. Wouldn’t be surprised to see similar numbers for the middle class in India, either.

    • Elise says:

      Agree with your comments on Norway, from living there 6 years. In general, they have a strong affinity for nature, and take every opportunity to go walking or skiing. They also eat a lot of cold water fish (e.g. salmon), and have a widely-held, low opinion of fast food and soft drink. They also don’t seem to eat a lot of pastry, but they like grainy breads.

      That means, I guess, a national bias towards: healthy exercise, fish oil, low saturated fats and trans-fats, low sugar, and lower GI carbs.

      Only a matter of time before the giant US marketing machine for fast foods and “snacks” move in and sort that lot out, so they can join the rest of us at the bulging end of the chart…

  15. Yobbo says:

    Paul you need to eat less and do more as you get older to maintain the same weight. That’s why most people gradually get fatter throughout their lives. Their habits don’t change but their metabolism does.

  16. Cartesius says:

    Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to be very privatised, somewhat asocial and quite boring. There is no generalised imperative to make an appearance in public, except amongst sub-cultures.

  17. Pedro says:

    The Gary Taubes book is interesting. I read it over Xmas, ditched most sugar and simple carbs and have lost weight without changing anything else, including my drinking levels.

    • Elise says:

      Agree Pedro. Myself and better half were getting a bit plump, and better half had high cholesterol and a doctor’s recommendation to take Lipitor for the term of his natural life. We took a somewhat similar path to you.

      We went on a mission 6 months ago to solve the problem naturally. We aquired a guide to shopping for low GI food and swapped high GI carbs for low GI (changed rice, potato, pasta, cereal and bread for low GI versions). We also swapped high fat for low fat alternatives (e.g. swapping cheddar cheese for ricotta and low-fat philly) and let our furry personal trainer take us for walks every day (nothing strenuous). Still eating the same sort of food as before, and not starving ourselves at all. Not too much change really, and the result was…

      Better half doesn’t have to take Lipitor after all (new doctor’s advice), because his numbers are back down, and I have regained a waistline as well. Furry personal trainer is happy too!

      I am now waiting for our health authorities to explain the link between Low GI, insulin levels, lower cholesterol production by the body and less fat deposits around the middle. Umm, that would be when they pry themselves free of helpful advice from the pharmaceutical companies to put men, women and children on statins at the first available opportunity.

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