British Culture

Weight Bias Through the Lens of Three Different Cultures

Obesity has become a global phenomenon. The environment is pushing both people and animals all over the world to store more fat. In data we presented at the Canadian Obesity Summit and at the European Congress on Obesity, we see that different cultures have different ideas about obesity and the people who have it. Providing further insight, Solenn Carof digs a little deeper into these attitudes in Britain, France, and Germany.

Corof uses both qualitative and quantitative method to understand the intersection of obesity and distinctly different cultures in these three countries. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism published her findings.

An Offense to French Aesthetics and Food Culture

In France, Carof found a social perspective that views obesity as a lack of good taste:

Slimming diets are frequently criticized in France because they go against the social rules that govern the “French meal.” In the survey, the French interviewees least reported having been on a weight-loss diet. Consequently, although the threshold of the body considered as ‘too fat’ is lower than in England and Germany, it neither inevitably leads to restrictive practices nor in more frequent acts of stigmatization and discrimination for overweight or obese people.

A Moral Fault in England

Corof observed considerably more stigma in England. In this culture, obesity suggests an individual failure of personal responsibility:

The subjective representations of body and food of the English interviewees are marked by the importance of morality. It tends to explain why they have the most pejorative representation of food, perceived more often as a “necessity” than as a “pleasure.”

Ambivalent Views in Germany

Corof’s research in Germany documents divergent views of obesity. On one hand, Germans might describe a more rounded body image as “solid”  or “beautiful.” But for people living with obesity, discrimination and social criticism are common experiences. Corof concludes that:

Overweight is in Germany defined as a “normal” body, whereas obesity is, as in England, often seen as an individual fault.

Common Threads

Despite many differences, biases about obesity have more impact upon women, regardless of culture. Food has different significance for women as well. Likewise, people with lower social and economic status found themselves more stigmatized by obesity than others.

Obesity may be a biological phenomenon. But social and cultural dimensions make dealing with it infinitely more complex.

Click here for Corof’s fascinating new paper.

British Culture, photograph © Chris Jones / flickr

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July 1, 2017