Changing Cultural Norms Toward Obesity

December 18, 2019
MHE Staff
MHE Staff

The message for all people is to persevere in their dedication to a healthy lifestyle.

Dated cultural perceptions on being overweight proving wealth, as well as increased access to meat and processed foods, are leading to excessive obesity for low-income and immigrant Americans, according to one expert.

Tarek Hassanein, MD, founder of the Southern California Liver & GI Centers, recently talked about helping all cultures understand how to uncouple this false perception by focusing on factors like genetics, weight, heart rate, exercise, gender, and age. He also detailed health issues associated with obesity (i.e., high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, etc.) and actions that go beyond just health recommendations when it comes to changing the cultural norms associated with obesity. 

“Most of the education, training, and lifestyle advice is all in English,” says Hassanein. “A lot of the patients speak different languages, and certain concepts do not have direct translation to other languages, so the message can sometimes get lost.”

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For example, he says, access to healthy food in America is more expensive. “In other countries, healthy food is less expensive than other food,” he says. “Meanwhile, fresh items are expensive-they are organic, and therefore something that many immigrant families wouldn’t spend their money on. Minorities also have their issues with education-they do not know how to exploit the services available for them, so they just simply do not understand or know about nutrition. For example, our population has been used to growing up and learning all about health, healthy eating, and healthy lifestyles. Immigrants are not, and when they come here, cite fears such as ICE raids disguised as a self-help item, and therefore turn away.”

A number of factors can play a role in obesity. Hassanein cites easy access to highly processed foods, that are cheap and easy to eat. “Also, American lifestyle is more sedated,” he says. “Less walking, more car use. In other countries you are walking around, using bikes, etc. Things are more accessible. The zoning policies (in the U.S.) essentially really made it difficult. Parts of the country has parks where people cannot come to exercise. It is rising immobility that is causing issues.”

Hassanein believes that communication is key. Empirical data proves that there needs to be constant communication and reiteration of the info-you need to keep driving it home that they must persevere in their dedication to a healthy lifestyle. It takes three months to listen, and three months to apply what they are talking about. The approach is, in the old days, you have to mention that smoking is bad, so that when they hear that it is bad, it starts to eventually sink in and then you will begin to think about it. With diet, it is much more influential than exercise. While exercise is great, diet is the key.”