The Duchess of Windsor once famously decreed that a woman can never be too rich or too thin. That certainly seems to be the operating philosophy in this country, where women in particular pay a big price for midlife weight gain. Popular TV shows like The Biggest Loser and Shedding for the Wedding promote the view that people who can't lose weight are just plain lazy.
Now researchers from Arizona State University have found that this highly negative view of fat people has taken hold even in countries that traditionally valued large body size.
The researchers collected and analyzed data and cultural ideas about body size from 700 people in 10 countries and territories for their study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Current Anthropology. In each location, people were asked to respond to negative and positive statements such as "Fat people are lazy" or "A big woman is a beautiful woman."
They found that people from countries as diverse as American Samoa, Paraguay and New Zealand all shared the same opinions about obesity, that it is a disease that results from personal and social weaknesses.
The countries that seemed to carry the biggest stigma against fat were Paraguay and American Samoa. The researchers said that was surprising because as recently as the 1990s, people in American Samoa were tolerant of fat and even in some cases, viewed it as a sign of health.
Much of the new stigma against fat comes from a global public health campaign against obesity, the researchers believe. But whether these negative attitudes help people lose weight is unclear. So many issues are involved in serious weight loss, including emotional problems, social environments, and overall physical health. We can only hope that public health officials in these countries follow up with information about how to lose weight and keep it off.